Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally

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."

SEE ALSO: Questions swirl around fatal shooting of Louisiana boy

"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:

11 PHOTOS
Ben Carson on the campaign trail
See Gallery
Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally
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)
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)
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)
LAKEWOOD, CO - OCTOBER 29: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before a campaign event at Colorado Christian University on October 29, 2015 in Lakewood, Colorado. Ben Carson was back on the campaign trail a day after the third republican debate held at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Scenes around the the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson takes the stage at the event. Dr Carson speaks to the media after the speach. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Attendees wait for Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to arrive during a campaign stop at the birthplace of the Michigan Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Carson, the third candidate in the Republican race to have never held elected office, saw his numbers drop following the debate last week. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, listens as he attends a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Carson will be speaking at the Iowa State Fair, which is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, eats a slice of pizza as he tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, Carson doubled down on his assertion that a speech given by President Barack Obama intended to sell the American public on his nuclear deal with Iran contained 'coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

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:

4 PHOTOS
Ben Carson facts you should know
See Gallery
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)

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)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

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:

17 PHOTOS
Puerto Rico debt crisis, economy
See Gallery
Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE


More from AOL.com:
World Series of Poker showdown begins, first player out
Homeless struggle with high costs of Hawaii
Pressure builds for U-Missouri president to quit over racial tensions

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.