Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally

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Ben Carson Wants Puerto Rico to Become a State


FAJARDO, Puerto Rico, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson endorsed U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico on Sunday, citing its "very strategic" location for military defense.

Speaking at a convention for Puerto Rican gubernatorial candidate Ricardo Rossello, a member of the island's pro-statehood party, Carson said he "would be incredibly honored and delighted for Puerto Rico to be the 51st state."

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"One thing I've found when I have come to Puerto Rico is extremely friendly people," the 64-year-old retired neurosurgeon said, adding that "we have probably more patriotic Puerto Ricans than almost any other state."

See photos of Ben Carson on the campaign trail:

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Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson gestures while speaking during a town hall at Abundant Life Ministries in Jefferson, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
MT. AYR, IA - JANUARY 22 : Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is introduced during his 'Trust in God Townhall' campaign stop January 22, 2016 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Carson, who is seeking the nomination from the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
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Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a campaign event at Cobb Energy Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a town hall meeting at Winthrop University on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Rock Hill, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a rally Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. As retired neurosurgeon Carson has risen in the polls, media reports have revisited his accounts of acts of violence as a child, a key part of the redemption story he discusses on the campaign trail. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before speaking at a gala for the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on November 6, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. Carson has come under media scrutiny for possibly exaggerating his background and other statements he has made recently. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson greets well-wishers during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 16: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson (L) eats a piece of pizza while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, left, laughs as he wife, Candy Carson, waves to the crowd after saying a few words to the crowd supporting her husband in front of supporters Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Carson is promoting a book he has co-authored with his wife Candy Carson entitled 'A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.' (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Statehood is a central political issue in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory whose two main parties are the pro-statehood PNP and pro-commonwealth PPD, each of which have Democrats and Republicans within their ranks.

The island's fate has also made it onto U.S. presidential candidates' agendas because Puerto Ricans can vote in presidential primaries - though not general elections - and because Florida, a key swing state, is home to nearly 1 million Puerto Ricans.

Carson has found little support among Republicans in Puerto Rico, who mostly favor candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom have endorsed statehood for the U.S. commonwealth.

Carson called Puerto Rico "very strategically located for the defense of America, right near Cuba."

Carson, neck and neck with Donald Trump atop Republican polls, spoke for about five minutes without addressing recent headline-grabbing allegations that he misrepresented facts surrounding a scholarship offer to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and fabricated details of a violent exchange with a friend as a child.

Those supporting statehood reason that inclusion for Puerto Rico in the U.S. would provide equal treatment on issues like federal Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, while those against are wary of risking the island's independence and cultural identity.

10 facts you should know about Ben Carson:

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Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally

1. He is a weekly opinion columnist for The Washington Times.

(Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

2. He is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and his father was a minister.

(Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

3. He was raised in Detroit by a single mother, alongside is older brother Curtis.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

4. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States.

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

5. He was the first doctor to successfully separate occipital craniopagus twins in 1987.

(AP Photo/Fred Kraft)

6. He has written six bestselling books, all by an international Christian media and publishing company.

(AP Photo/Brian Witte)

7. He has criticized “political correctness” because he says it goes against freedom of expression, and became known for this idea when he was the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

8. There’s a Lifetime movie made about his life, with Cuba Gooding Jr. in the starring role.


(Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

9. Before November of 2014 Carson was not a member of any political party.

(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

10. He and his wife started a scholarship fund called "Carson scholars fund" in 1994 which has so far awarded 6,700 scholarships to kids for "academic excellence and humanitarian qualities."

(Photo by Louis Myrie/WireImage via Getty)

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With Puerto Rico facing a $72 billion debt load and a roughly 45 percent poverty rate, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, faces historically low approval ratings and strong challenges in next year's election from statehood candidates such as Rossello and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi.

Carson's trip to Puerto Rico was seen as an effort to push himself onto the agenda there.

A person close to Rossello's campaign told Reuters on Saturday that Carson was not invited by the campaign, but sought to be allowed to speak in the days leading up to the rally.

Indeed, Rossello's rally was an unexpected choice for Carson. Rossello is a Democrat, and his running mate, Puerto Rican House minority leader Jenniffer Gonzalez, is a Republican who supports Bush.

Rossello, 36, has lit a fire in some voters with a zealous, energetic and youthful persona. He is the son of former Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello, who governed in the 1990s during relatively prosperous times.

RELATED GALLERY: See photos of the economic crisis in Puerto Rico:

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Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally
A homeless man stands in front of a closed down fast food restaurant in the colonial district of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. As Puerto Rico's economy continues to decline a list of cost-cutting measures proposed by a group of hedge funds that holds $5.2 billion of Puerto Ricoâs debt has riled islanders: laying off teachers; cutting Medicaid benefits; and reducing subsidies to the main public university. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
FILE - In this Aug. 2, 2015, file photo, a homeless man stands in front of a closed down business in Puerta de Tierra in the outskirts of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is staggering under a $72 billion public debt load in 2015, that its governor has said the U.S. territory cannot pay and must restructure. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo, File)
A private security guard sits in front of a closed down business in the colonial district of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. In the ongoing economic crisis Puerto Rico's debt-burdened power utility already charges rates that on average are twice those of the mainland, and is under pressure from bondholders to raise them higher (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
A protestor holds a sign that reads in Spanish: "We didn't take out a loan. We didn't see a dime. We're not going to pay." during a protest in the financial district demanding the island's public debt not be paid to bondholders in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Protesters gathered at what is known as The Golden Mile to demand the banking industry take responsibility for the current economic crisis. This month Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Puerto Rico's outstanding $72 billion public debt is unpayable given the island's long recession. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
Protestors Block traffic in the financial district to demand the island's public debt not be paid to bondholders in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Protesters gathered at what is known as The Golden Mile to demand the banking industry take responsibility for the current economic crisis. This month Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Puerto Rico's outstanding $72 billion public debt is unpayable given the island's long recession. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
A pedestrian crosses the street as protestors block traffic in the financial district to demand the banking industry take responsibility for the current economic crisis in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Protesters gathered along what is known locally as The Golden Mile to demand the island's public debt not be paid back. This month Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said Puerto Rico's outstanding $72 billion public debt is unpayable given the island's long recession. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
A man plays an electronic slot machine at a virtual casino in the Rio Piedras neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the day a 11.5% sales tax goes into effect, the highest of any U.S. state. The island's administration has been pushing for Congress to let the government and public agencies seek bankruptcy protection, while the White House has said no one is contemplating a federal bailout of Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JULY 01: A for sale sign is seen hanging from a balcony next to a Puerto Rican flag in Old San Juan as the island's residents deal with the government's $72 billion debt on July 1, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro García Padilla said in a speech recently that the people of Puerto Rico will have to make sacrifices and share the responsibilities to help pull the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JULY 01: The Puerto Rican flag flies near the Capitol building as the island's residents deal with the government's $72 billion debt on July 1, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro García Padilla said in a speech recently that the people of Puerto Rico will have to make sacrifices and share the responsibilities to help pull the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JULY 01: Yessenia Puente packs up her apartment as she prepares to move to Orlando, Florida this weekend on July 1, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puente joins a mass exodus of people fleeing the island due to increasing economic hardships and a financial crisis that has resulted in an estimated $72 billion public debt for the Puerto Rican government, which the governor has said is unpayable. The workers for the moving company, La Rosa del Monte, said that she is number 1465 that the company has packed for Orlando since the beginning of the year. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JULY 01: Luis Davila with La Rosa del Monte movers pack up Yessenia Puente's apartment as she prepares to move to Orlando, Florida this weekend on July 1, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puente joins a mass exodus of people fleeing the island due to increasing economic hardships and a financial crisis that has resulted in an estimated $72 billion public debt for the Puerto Rican government, which the governor has said is unpayable. The workers for the moving company, La Rosa del Monte, said that she is number 1465 that the company has packed for Orlando since the beginning of the year. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A street performer in a Mickey Mouse costume rests on a bench in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the day a 11.5% sales tax went into effect, the highest of any U.S. state. The island's administration has been pushing for Congress to let the government and public agencies seek bankruptcy protection, while the White House has said no one is contemplating a federal bailout of Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
People walk through a shopping area in Rio Piedras where many businesses have closed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the day a 11.5% sales tax went into effect, the highest of any U.S. state. The island's administration has been pushing for Congress to let the government and public agencies seek bankruptcy protection, while the White House has said no one is contemplating a federal bailout of Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Hilda Soto has breakfast as she reads a newspaper article about the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the governments $73 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Soto said that she believes it's the moment for the island to go independent, as the Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A man plays his guitar while he begs for money in front of a closed down business in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, June 29, 2015. International economists released a critical report on Puerto Rico's economy Monday on the heels of the governor's warning that the island can't pay its $72 billion public debt. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Tourists walk past a boarded up business in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: An American flag and Puerto Rican flag fly next to each other in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People walk on the street in front of the governor’s mansion on the background in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, June 29, 2015. International economists released a critical report on Puerto Rico's economy Monday on the heels of the governor's warning that the island can't pay its $72 billion public debt.(AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
A man stands in front of a jewelry store in the neighborhood of Rio Piedras in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, June 29, 2015. The jewelry itself is surrounded by closed down businesses. International economists released a critical report on Puerto Rico's economy Monday on the heels of the governor's warning that the island can't pay its $72 billion public debt. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
A man in a local bar watches Puerto Rico’s governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla on television delivering an address on the state of the island's finances, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, June 29, 2015. The governor said that he will form a financial team to negotiate with bondholders on delaying debt payments and then restructuring $72 billion in public debt that he says the island can't repay. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 29: (L-R) Luis Santini Rivera, Guillermo Corporal and Jose Acevedo watch as Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla addresses the island's residents in a televised broadcast regarding the governments $73 billion debt on June 29, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The governor said that the people on the island will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: People use a Banco Popular ATM machine a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Police officers close off a street near the Governors Mansion as taxi drivers protest the Uber service in Old San Juan a day after the Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Jessaily Otero (L) and Yarie Paris relax at a cafe a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Pedestrians walk past a building tagged with graffiti a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Rosaura Guzman waits for customers at John Cafe a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
The U.S. and Puerto Rico flags wave in front of the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, June 29, 2015. International economists released a critical report on Puerto Rico's economy Monday on the heels of the governor's warning that the island can't pay its $72 billion public debt. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: Rolando Santiago (2nd R), who lost his job at pharmacutical company, along with other people wait for help at an unemployment office a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 29: People walk through the streets after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a speech regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 29, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30: The Puerto Rican flag flies above the Capitol a day after Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave a televised speech regarding the governments $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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