Why is Puerto Rico important in the primary?

The media has followed Hillary Clinton’s lead in highlighting Puerto Rico as a critical stop for the Democratic presidential primaries. Hillary needs a big boost from the American territory to pad her popular-vote numbers and convince superdelegates that she can win the Latino vote in a general election, which may be more favorably inclined towards John McCain. No one really mentions that Puerto Rico is irrelevant in November:

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is counting on a big win in today’s Democratic presidential primary, one day after a party ruling left her presidential campaign on the ropes.

A landslide victory would bolster Clinton’s argument to superdelegates that she has received more votes than Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and is better equipped to win important Latino votes in a general election matchup with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. …

That political engagement has seldom extended to mainland-based campaigns because, while Puerto Rico will send 63 delegates to the Democratic convention, it has no electoral votes in the general election. Democrats have traditionally held presidential caucuses here and were intending to do the same this year until it began to appear the Clinton-Obama race would still be unsettled by the time Puerto Rico’s turn came.

In other words, the Puerto Rico primary is utterly useless as an argument for a general-election advantage. Puerto Rico residents do not vote in the general election. The island usually has the last contest in the primary as a symbolic show, and because it holds no meaning at all, they usually just caucus rather than going to the expense of a primary.

Today, expect to find all sorts of analysis about which candidate can win which sections of the islands. It all means nothing for predictive value as to which would make the better candidate in November. If Hillary won 90% of the vote, it won’t mean an extra jot or tittle in the general election, nor would it if Obama won 90%. The relation of Puerto Rico as an indicator of the “Latino vote” is at best tenuous and probably non-existent, as Puerto Rico and its residents have different concerns and political issues than Cuban refugees, Mexican-Americans, and Americans of Central American and South American descent. The Latino vote is a lot more complicated than the simple shorthand used by the media.

My prediction? Hillary wins by fifteen, and it changes nothing. South Dakota and Montana won’t be much more meaningful, either. After yesterday’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting demonstrated, this fight will go all the way to the convention, and more than likely past it.