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Puerto Rico's Governor Loses Primary Bid For Full Term

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, pictured in June, admitted defeat in a primary election Sunday.
Ricardo Arduengo
AFP via Getty Images
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, pictured in June, admitted defeat in a primary election Sunday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez acknowledged defeat in a primary election Sunday to former Puerto Rico congressional representative Pedro Pierluisi.

Though votes were still being tabulated Sunday night, results showed Pierluisi with a commanding lead in polls. It was the second day of voting in what had turned out to be a chaotic primary election in Puerto Rico. Voting last Sunday was suspended after election officials failed to deliver ballots to polling places across the island.

Pierluisi will now stand as the candidate of the New Progressive Party in November's general election. The party supports statehood for the U.S. territory.

Gov. Vázquez — who had previously served as the island's attorney general — assumed the governorship last summer following the resignation of then-governor Ricardo Rosselló amid massive protests. Though she'd initially said she intended only to serve the remainder of Rosselló's term, she soon changed her mind, mounting an aggressive campaign for a full term in her own right.

Pierluisi is the island's former representative in Congress and had briefly assumed the governorship following Rosselló's resignation last summer. Rosselló had hand-picked him as his successor shortly before leaving office, but that decision was invalidated by the island's Supreme Court, which ruled that as attorney general, Vázquez was next in the line of succession.

Vázquez's year in office has been marked by controversy and scandal. Earlier this summer, Puerto Rico's special independent prosecutor's office announced a criminal probe into her handling of emergency supplies after a series of earthquakes devastated parts of Puerto Rico's southern coast in January. The governor has also been criticized for Puerto Rico's uncoordinated and often jumbled response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Addressing supporters on Sunday, Vázquez struck a defiant tone. While recognizing Pierluisi's apparent victory, she did not formally endorse or congratulate her opponent, instead issuing a challenge.

"I say to Pedro Pierluisi, that it is the thousands and thousands of people who supported me, and gave me their vote ... it is those people whose endorsement he should be seeking," Vázquez said.

By contrast, Pierluisi called for party unity and told supporters he would support Vázquez's efforts to govern for her five months left in office. He said achieving statehood would be his top priority if he wins in November's general election, as would be the island's recovery from this year's earthquakes, recent hurricanes, and its ongoing economic crisis.

The general election will pit Pierluisi against Carlos Delgado, who won Sunday's gubernatorial primary for the island's other main political party, the Popular Democratic Party, which rejects statehood in favor of Puerto Rico's existing commonwealth status. Delgado — the mayor of a town on the island's northwest coast — beat two better-known opponents: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who earned international recognition for her criticism of the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 and her public feuds with President Trump in the months following the storm.

Also on the ballot in November's gubernatorial election will be Alexandra Lúgaro of the Citizens' Victory Movement, a new political party promoting anti-colonialism and a constitutional assembly to make a final decision on Puerto Rico's political relationship with the United States.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
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