BAYAMON, Puerto Rico (CNN) — Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took their campaigns to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on Saturday in an effort to woo voters before the June 1 primary.
There are 55 Democratic delegates up for grabs, though voters cannot take part in the general election in November.
Obama campaigned early Saturday at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon, where he praised the nation’s veterans before Memorial Day.
“It’s fitting to be here today, not just because Memorial Day is around the corner but because Puerto Ricans are such an important part of the United States military. On this island and in Puerto Rican neighborhoods across America, you can go into almost any home and find a veteran living there or a photograph of a loved one in uniform hanging on the wall,” he said.
Obama also took aim at Republican Sen. John McCain over his opposition to an update of the GI Bill. The legislation passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon by a 75-22 vote and passed the House this month by a similar margin. It proposes to essentially provide a full scholarship to in-state public universities for members of the military who have served for at least three years.
“I don’t understand why John McCain would side with George Bush and oppose our plan to make college more affordable for our veterans. … Putting a college degree within reach for our veterans isn’t being too generous; it’s the least we can do for our heroes,” Obama said.
Shortly after Obama’s remarks, the McCain campaign hit back.
“Barack Obama talks about helping veterans, but when the choice came between delivering for our military men and women and playing partisan politics, he decided politics was more important,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Saturday.
Later Saturday, Obama marched along a street in Bayamon, shaking hands with supporters as he walked in front of a banner that said “Puerto Rico Con Obama.”
This event was referred to as a “caminata,” a traditional parade for a candidate.
Obama remarked to the crowd, “I will never forget the support and the friendship that I’ve seen here in Puerto Rico. … I am absolutely confident that if that we keep on working hard, there’s no reason why we can’t win here in Puerto Rico, and if we win Puerto Rico, we will win the nomination.”
Clinton hosted a “Solutions for Puerto Rico’s Families” town hall meeting in Aguadilla on Saturday.
The former first lady may not have understood the language during her first campaign stop in Puerto Rico, but she certainly understood the politics.
Before a crowd of a few hundred Puerto Ricans in a muggy high school gym, Clinton pledged to make it a “personal priority” to resolve the statehood issue before the end of her first term.
She also vowed to clean up the former Navy testing ranges on Vieques, fund the famous Arecibo radio telescope, use federal dollars to put more cops on the streets and extend tax breaks to Puerto Rican companies.
Clinton made each of those promises in English, abandoning a translator early on, despite the growing din among distracted audience members who couldn’t understand the full content of her stump speech.
Still, enthusiastic supporters hoisted signs like “Puertorriquenos con Hillary” and “Hillary Presidenta” while chants of “Hillary! Hillary!” filled the room.
Despite in the language barrier, Clinton seemed to be on familiar ground.
She recalled a visit she made to the island in 1998 on behalf of her husband to inspect damage from Hurricane Georges.
She also reminded the audience that she represents more than one million Puerto Ricans in New York; this week in Florida, she jokingly referred to herself as “the senator from Puerto Rico.”
Clinton has done well among Hispanic voters in this year’s primaries, and she is expected to have similar success in Puerto Rico.
On Thursday, Clinton sent daughter Chelsea to campaign in Puerto Rico, a sign that she is refusing to give up the race despite the delegate math in favor of her rival.
According to CNN’s latest estimate, Obama leads Clinton in total delegates, 1,969 to 1,779.
However, Obama does not have enough delegates to secure the nomination outright. He has 1,962 delegates, including superdelegates, short of the 2,026 needed to secure the nomination, according to CNN estimates.
Obama was in Florida on Friday courting the Cuban vote, a bloc that has tended to vote Republican in past elections.
With a 70 percent turnout rate, Cuban-Americans have been a powerful force in Florida and thus, because of Florida’s role as a swing state, national politics.
He told Florida’s Cuban-American community Friday that his Cuba policy would be based on liberty and freedom for the island nation’s people.
“My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: ‘libertad,’ ” he said, using the Spanish word for liberty at an event celebrating Cuban Independence Day in Miami, Florida.