SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- In a Republican presidential race that has morphed into an elaborate math equation, Puerto Rico may be the oddest factor yet: a state that isn't really a state, where voters can't really vote for president, but which on Sunday holds caucuses awarding 20 delegates that will inch the winner closer to the elusive 1,144.
And so it was that after Rick Santorum paraded triumphantly through Old San Juan this week (and got a bit of a sunburn), Mitt Romney's chartered jet touched down Friday on this island territory some 1,200 miles from the U.S. mainland.
As Romney stepped out of his plane, the tropical breeze conspired against his typically tidy hair. When Puerto Rico's popular young governor, Luis Fortuno, spoke Spanish introducing Romney, the candidate looked on smiling. This student of French never revealed that he might have been a bit lost in translation.
"Viva, Romney! Viva, Romney!" his pre-assembled supporters chanted.
"That's an aggressive and energetic -- enthusiastic audience," Romney said. "Another beautiful day in Puerto Rico on this beautiful island with extraordinary and wonderful people."
Thus began what may become the most chaotic 24 hours of campaigning in Romney's long quest for the presidency. After the airport welcome, Romney went to a rally on the steps of the state capitol. There, Fortuno promised Romney, "We have a little surprise for you."
What Romney saw was more street carnival than political rally. Trucks carrying huge speakers blared salsa and reggae music into the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan to draw people to the Capitol grounds.
Santorum spent two days campaigning here and set off a firestorm by saying that if Puerto Rico became a state, he believed it should have to make English its primary language. He sought to contain the damage, telling reporters that English should be the "preferred" language, but not the official language. Still, some political operatives said it could hurt Santorum in what might have been a rich opportunity: The electorate is roughly two-thirds Catholic and one-third Christian evangelical.