CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, one of the Republican Party’s rising stars, is endorsing Mitt Romney for president here Friday, potentially giving a boost to the former Massachusetts governor’s efforts to court Hispanic Republicans in the critical Florida primary.

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Fortuño plans to campaign with Romney at a Friday evening rally in Orlando, where he will make his endorsement official, according to a Romney campaign aide.

In a statement, Fortuño said: “Mitt Romney is the one candidate who has the record, leadership, experience and pro-growth plan to continue the course of private-sector job creation we’ve begun in Puerto Rico and provide economic stability for generations. Mitt Romney has shown throughout his life that the principles learned in the private sector can be applied to all challenges, whether it was saving the 2002 Olympics or balancing the budget as governor.”

Fortuño, 51, was elected governor in 2008 and is a member of the Republican National Committee. Born in Puerto Rico, Fortuño earned degrees at Georgetown University and the University of Virginia School of Law before returning to Puerto Rico to launch a political career. He is considered one of the GOP’s most promising Hispanic leaders.

Puerto Rico is among several U.S. territories that award convention delegates in the Republican nominating contest. Puerto Rico’s primary is tentatively scheduled for March 18, and Fortuño’s backing could help Romney win votes there.

Romney, in a statement, said: “I look forward to working with Governor Fortuño on the issues most pressing for the people of Puerto Rico — job creation, public safety and resolving the Island’s 113-year political status question. Every job created on the Island is another American job added to our nation’s economic comeback.”

In a speech Friday at the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami, Romney gave Fortuño a shout-out, noting that he is “passionate about statehood.” Romney seemed to embrace Puerto Rico’s statehood initiative, saying: “I’m looking forward to the time when the people of Puerto Rico make their decision about becoming a state.”

“I expect the people of Puerto Rico will decide, like [Fortuño] feels, that they want to become a state, and I can tell you that I will work with him to make sure that if that vote comes out in favor of statehood, that we will go through the process in Washington to provide statehood to Puerto Rico and, again, to create a model in the Caribbean — one more model in Latin American of the benefits of having freedom,” Romney said.