Carlos Curbelo, chairman of the state party's Hispanic Leadership Council, noted that Democrats blocked Bush's potentially historic nomination of a Hispanic to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The filibuster of Honduran-born Miguel Estrada was the first ever to be used against an appeals court nominee.
"I would hope Democrats don't apply a double standard if Republicans oppose Sotomayor based on her legal philosophy," Curbelo said. "Efforts to politicize it based on race should be rejected."
But some Democratic leaders immediately touted Sotomayor's potential to make history. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said, "I am particularly excited that President Obama chose an Hispanic woman for this critical role . . . An Hispanic woman serving on the highest court in the land is an accomplishment for which we can all be proud."
Obama visited Kissimmee, hub of Central Florida's fast-growing Puerto Rican community, during a major campaign swing right before he claimed the nomination and again six days before the election. Republican nominee John McCain also made repeated visits.
Unlike the Cuban-American community in South Florida, which has long standing ties to the Republican party, the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida is known for its political independence. Obama's investment in the Orlando area paid off when Hispanic voters statewide favored the Democratic presidential nominee for the first time in decades.
"The party already made those gains, and now it's a matter of keeping them," said Democratic state Rep. Darren Soto, the only Puerto Rican member of the state Legislature, who said he would hit Orlando-area radio talk shows this week to promote Sotomayor.
"Certainly there were rumblings early on whether Obama would make any big Hispanic appointments," he added. "Particularly in Central Florida, with her being Puerto Rican, this is going to be a huge point of pride."
Another Florida factor: Sotomayor's mother, Celina Sotomayor, now lives in Margate, a suburb north of Miami, in a condo she bought in 2001, acccording to property records.
The White House noted in its biography of Sotomayor that she talks to her mother, "who now lives in Florida, every day."