BEYOND THE SEA

03.10.12

Guam and Saipan Make Tempting Targets for Delegate-Hungry GOP Candidates

These Pacific islands are far from the Republican fray, but Romney and Santorum have campaigned hard there because today’s caucuses could select delegates who could swing a brokered convention this summer.

Until this week, the last time Guam and Saipan were fought over was during World War II. However, as the GOP presidential primary season goes on and on and on and on, the caucuses held on Guam and Saipan, the main island of the Northern Mariana Islands, will loom surprisingly large. 

Because of the strange delegate math the GOP uses, these relatively unpopulated islands in the middle of Pacific Ocean will combine to send six more delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa as the crucial early state of New Hampshire. This normally would make for a quirky factoid, paired with the fact that Guam is apparently home to the world’s largest Kmart, or that Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, took off from the Northern Marianas. But the increasingly fraught nature of the Republican race means that their presidential caucuses tomorrow will actually matter.

Romney has sent one of his sons, Matt, to speak at Guam’s caucus today after making an appearance on Saipan yesterday. The former Massachusetts governor has picked up the endorsement of Guam’s chief executive, Eddy Calvo. Rick Santorum’s campaign has also been active in the Pacific. Prominent Guam Republicans were enraptured over the fact that they had an hourlong conference call with Santorum, which was supposed to be only a half hour! But any contact with Republican candidates at all is a major improvement over 2008, when John McCain simply sent them a letter. Apparently, the Romney campaign's personal touch was far more successful than a conference call and the former Massachusetts Governor swept the Guam caucuses.

If the Republican campaign comes down to a contested convention, the decisive votes for the nomination could be cast by delegates who cannot legally cast ballots in the general election.

That voters on these remote islands are being so heavily courted shows the desperate state of the campaign at this point. Although the delegate hunt is not yet as intense as it was in Obama-Clinton Democratic primary of 2008, the fact that the GOP primary has already reached Guam is a sign that it is starting to reach that level.

There are also advantages to campaigning in the South Pacific, despite the extended plane flight. The weather is warmer, and the beaches more appealing than anywhere in mainland United States in late winter—not to mention a certain relief that the bare-chested men in grass skirts whom candidates encounter are actually dressed in a culturally appropriate manner. But it does raise concerns for GOP candidates, and not just because they risk running into a stray octogenarian Japanese holdout or being wrong-footed on the vital issue of brown-tree-snake policy.

There are five U.S. commonwealths and territories that are allotted delegates at the Republican convention. Besides Guam and the Northern Marianas, they are Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Combined, they will have 59 delegates, making them a more powerful bloc than a state like North Carolina, Tennessee, or New Jersey. However, they also combine to have zero electoral votes in November. If the Republican campaign comes down to a contested convention, the decisive votes for the nomination could be cast by delegates who cannot legally cast ballots in the general election. It would be a further embarrassment for a party that has suffered through a bruising primary season and would raise yet another round of questions about the Republican National Committee’s process.

But Romney’s son has been sent halfway across the globe to avoid such a predicament. After all, when else in American politics is a photo opportunity with bare-chested men in grass skirts the least embarrassing option?