alg_obama-air-force-one1-300x210Fifty years.

That’s how long it’s been since a sit­ting Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent vis­it­ed Puer­to Rico. The last was John Kennedy in Decem­ber 1961.

So when word leaked out that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma will com­mem­o­rate that Kennedy vis­it with a one-day stop in Puer­to Rico on June 14, many in Wash­ing­ton were caught by surprise.

The news elec­tri­fied res­i­dents of the Caribbean island, which has been a U.S. ter­ri­to­ry for 112 years. It also pro­vid­ed yet anoth­er sign that Oba­ma is deter­mined to offer Lati­no vot­ers many rea­sons to sup­port his reelec­tion effort.

Still, Oba­ma’s vis­it is aimed more at the U.S. than the island. After all, even though Puer­to Rico’s 4 mil­lion res­i­dents are U.S. cit­i­zens, they can’t vote for Pres­i­dent and they send only one non­vot­ing mem­ber to Congress.

What they do have is lots of rel­a­tives among the 4 mil­lion Puer­to Ricans in the 50 states.

Per­haps the most impor­tant state is Flori­da, which has out­stripped all the oth­ers in the growth of its Puer­to Rican pop­u­la­tion and is the biggest bat­tle­ground state in pres­i­den­tial elections.

The 2010 Cen­sus count­ed 848,000 Puer­to Ricans liv­ing in Flori­da. That’s a 76% jump from 10 years ear­li­er. There are almost as many Puer­to Ricans in the Sun­shine State as there are Cuban-Americans.

Most have set­tled in cen­tral Flori­da along the I‑4 cor­ri­dor around Orlan­do. Many are retired hotel, gov­ern­ment, and fac­to­ry work­ers who moved there from the North­east and Midwest.

Oth­ers are young pro­fes­sion­als who migrat­ed from the island in droves to work in Flori­da’s tourism industry.

Both groups vote at high lev­els, and many — espe­cial­ly the young ones — are fer­vent advo­cates of mak­ing Puer­to Rico the 51st state.

By going to the island, Oba­ma will be send­ing a clear mes­sage to those Flori­da Puer­to Ricans that he is the one nation­al leader in touch with their concerns.

Two months ago, Oba­ma’s spe­cial task force on Puer­to Rico’s sta­tus issued a 112-page report that got lit­tle attention.

The report urges Con­gress to join with the peo­ple of Puer­to Rico in resolv­ing the island’s future polit­i­cal sta­tus. It rec­om­mends a two-stage plebiscite on the island and action by Con­gress — all before the end of 2012.

Don’t hold your breath.

There’s more chance of Con­gress pass­ing immi­gra­tion reform than pass­ing leg­is­la­tion on Puer­to Rican status.

The sta­tus issue has always pro­duced such pas­sion­ate divi­sions among even Puer­to Rican lead­ers that most Wash­ing­ton law­mak­ers have opt­ed to duck.

The task force report gave tac­it sup­port to a ref­er­en­dum the island’s pro-state­hood Repub­li­can Gov. Luis For­tuno wants to hold lat­er this year.

Puer­to Rico’s pro-inde­pen­dence and pro-com­mon­wealth par­ties have reject­ed For­tuno’s approach, say­ing it stacks the deck in favor of statehood.

Still, the gov­er­nor is deter­mined to go ahead with the vote.

So when Oba­ma lands in San Juan next month, he will no doubt get an ecsta­t­ic Caribbean wel­come just for being the first Pres­i­dent in 50 years to pay them attention.

And he will no doubt score some points down in Florida.

But after 110 years as an Amer­i­can colony, Puer­to Ricans need more than some words and a quick vis­it from their lead­ers in Washington.