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Carson endorses statehood for Puerto Rico at island rally

| Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, 9:06 p.m.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gives a speech at a 'Building the New Puerto Rico' event in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, November 8, 2015. Carson said he supports Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state in Fajardo on Sunday. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gives a speech at a 'Building the New Puerto Rico' event in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, November 8, 2015. Carson said he supports Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state in Fajardo on Sunday. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson endorsed 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.”

“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.”

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 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.”

“We have the Chinese already coming in and infiltrating the Caribbean,” he said. “We also have to recognize that we have global jihadists who are trying to destroy us. We need unity.”

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 Military Academy at West Point and fabricated details of a violent exchange with a friend as a child.

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