GOP Caucus in Virgin Islands, Often Overlooked, Getting More Attention This Year

January 29, 2024 by Dan McCue
GOP Caucus in Virgin Islands, Often Overlooked, Getting More Attention This Year
(Photo by Ihern 03880 via Pixabay)

ST. CROIX, Virgin Islands — Though they will likely be overshadowed by the Nevada Republican caucuses being held the same day, the caucuses being held in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Feb. 8 are unique contests in the early presidential nomination process.

As residents of one of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, voters in the Virgin Islands participate fully and equally with all other primary voters in the nomination of a presidential candidate. 

But because the Virgin Islands are a territory, they can’t vote for president in the general election in November according to the law.

As a result, wrote Gordon Ackley, the Republican party chair in the territory in a recent letter to the editor of the St. Croix Avis newspaper, “the caucuses are … the only meaningful chance for Virgin Islanders to vote for president in 2024.”

“Admittedly, the Virgin Island is relatively detached from the partisan tussles of stateside politics,” he continued. 

“It’s easy not to care when you have no vote for president in the general election, no U.S. senators and a member of the House of Representatives without the ability to vote on final passage of legislation.”

At the same time, Ackley said, the daily life of every resident of the cluster of Caribbean islands southeast of Puerto Rico, is shaped by the politics in the states.

“The territorial government depends on federal money, economic development incentives depend on congressional approval, federal criminal law, federal law enforcement and federal courts are critical to the administration of justice,” Ackley wrote.

In addition, he said, “the broader challenges posed by illegal immigration and Chinese influence in the Caribbean and Latin America can only be addressed by Washington.”

As a result, Ackley said, the outcome of this year’s presidential election “is hugely important.”

To learn more about the caucuses, The Well News reached out to Dennis Lennox, executive director of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands.

In the series of emails that followed, Lennox explained how the GOP cemented its support in the U.S. territories by adopting a resolution in the summer of 2017 that calls for citizens living in them to attain “unfettered enjoyment of their American citizenship.”

Significantly, the RNC resolution stated that the future political status of each of these four territories must be “justly resolved” according to its unique circumstances.

“This sentiment is consistent with the 2016 Republican Party platform position on Puerto Rico’s status, which supported ‘the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state,’” the document said.

“As a result, we can just state that only the Republican Party nationally supports full and equal citizenship for Americans in the territories,” Lennox said. “Today, three of the five territories have Republican members of Congress.”

Though there are only nine delegates at stake and only 500 to 1,000 people are actually expected to participate, the Virgin Islands’ spot in the GOP schedule — coming after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and ahead of South Carolina’s primary (not to mention its sharing the same date as the Nevada caucuses) — has made the contest particularly interesting this year.

Lennox said the local party’s selection of the early date was intended to enable the Virgin Islands to “play when it counts and be relevant to the nominating process.”

Their bid for relevancy got a little boost when the Nevada Republican Party voted to replace its state-run Feb. 6 primary with a party-run caucus on Feb. 8. Because of the difference in time zones, the Virgin Island results will likely be in long before Nevada decides who their winner is.

As a result, the Virgin Islands have gotten more attention than they usually do from the field of candidates.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who dropped out of the race after coming in second in the Iowa caucuses, actually campaigned in the territory and held a fundraiser on St. Thomas, while Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., visited the territory on former President Donald Trump’s behalf and Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., did the same for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

A number of campaign senior staffers and surrogates have followed, including Dr. Ben Carson, who also campaigned for Trump.

In addition to the territory being one of the first jurisdictions to award delegates to the GOP candidate for president, another wrinkle also served to make this caucus a little more tantalizing: the local party has opted to use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner.

Basically, what that means is that if no candidate gets a clear majority, the lowest-placing candidate would be dropped from the contest and their votes would be reallocated to their supporters’ next preference. This process is repeated until someone wins a majority.

This would seem irrelevant now that the race has come down to two candidates — Trump and Haley — a total of eight candidates filed and qualified for the ballot, and all but two of their names will still appear, lending at least a hint of uncertainty to the outcome.

The two candidates who asked for their names to be removed from the ballot before the Dec. 31 filing deadline were North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Caucusgoers will be voting at three locations on Feb. 8 — the Le Reine Chicken Shack, a family-run restaurant in St. Croix; Bluebeard’s Castle, a resort surrounding a 17th-century building in St. Thomas; and the Lovango Rum Bar overlooking Cruz Bay in St. John.

While the caucus is being run by the Republicans, any voter may cast a ballot so long as they up their registration to the GOP, something they can do at the caucus site.

“Once the contest is over, we’ll publish results online,” Lennox said. “We’re also having an election night party at the Morningstar Buoy Haus Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef, St. Thomas.

“We anticipate a high-quality production streamed live for everyone to watch with results in real time,” he said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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