PENUELAS, Puerto Rico (CNN) – Campaigning in Puerto Rico on Sunday, Hillary Clinton was a great distance from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the scene of her comment about Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination that sparked a media furor.
Her swing through sunny Puerto Rico was a vacation from the many political distractions on the mainland - questions not only about the assassination remark but also her dwindling chances to secure the Democratic nomination. Morning talk shows discussed the fallout from Friday's controversy and pored over a New York Daily News op-ed written by Clinton outlining her reasons for staying the race, but the candidate was far away, soaking up sunlight and adoration from hundreds of supporters in towns on the western part of the island.
In Puerto Rico, her speeches have been abbreviated but cheery, devoid of political sniping. Clinton herself has been upbeat.
At an evangelical church in the town of Hormigueros, Clinton took her place Sunday morning among the congregation and gently swayed to music as dancers waved ribbons in the air. It was the beginning of a marathon day featuring five separate campaign stops.
“It is in the spirit of our Lord and Savior that I come today to thank you for letting me spend this time with you,” she told the church-goers. “To feel the spirit in this beautiful church. And to see a worship service that includes the whole person, making joyful noises and dancing in praise. I feel blessed.”
Her speech at the church was tailored purely to Puerto Rican issues, as she pledged to clean up former Navy testing ranges in Vieques and promised to resolve the question of the island’s “status” by the end of her first term.
She then changed into a pink floral-patterned shirt and traveled southward to the immaculate seaside in the town of Boqueron, jammed with beach-going families who swarmed the senator as she walked along the beach, camera crews trailing. There were handshakes and embraces for shirtless men and bikini-clad women alike.
After that, it was on to the small town of Penuelas, where Clinton ate a leisurely lunch of rice and beans in the shade at Boquamar Restaurant, perched on a breezy blue bay. Clinton dined with staffers and New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who had accompanied the campaign to Puerto Rico.
She gave remarks after lunch (still in the floral shirt) to a small crowd gathered in a dirt road outside the restaurant, using a translator throughout. Though she has avoided doing so during this trip, Clinton ventured gingerly into horserace politics, challenging Barack Obama to a debate sponsored by Univision.
“I accept that invitation, anytime, anywhere,” she declared. “That is the best way for the people of Puerto Rico to have their questions asked and answered and for the rest of the United States to learn more about Puerto Rico.”
Clinton soon departed and her motorcade headed east through the mountains in the direction of greater San Juan, where she had two more events planned for Sunday evening. She will also spend Memorial Day in Puerto Rico with three campaign stops, before returning to the mainland on Monday night.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, she makes return visits to Montana and South Dakota.
(Photo credit: Peter Hamby/CNN)