Wednesday May 2, 2008
Democratic battle shifts to Pacific at weekend
By Maureen Maratita
THEY can't vote for the president, but thousands of people in the tiny U.S. territory of Guam will do their bit to decide the Democratic candidate this weekend.
The Pacific Ocean territory, which sends eight delegates with half a vote each to the Democratic convention in August, holds its primary on Saturday.
With Barack Obama leading Hilary Clinton by an estimated 1,733-1,598 in the delegate count, the vote from Guam may not count for much.
But the grueling fight between the two has riveted attention in the territory.
"It is a rare opportunity for the citizens of Guam to participate in the presidential primaries in a way that can have real effect," said Ron McNinch, a professor of public administration at the University of Guam.
"Usually, the main choices have formed by the time of the Guam process."
Guam, a 212 square mile island in the Western Pacific Ocean, was ceded to U.S. control at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It is the only significantly populated U.S. territory to have ever been occupied by a foreign power -- the Japanese during World War Two.
The island returned to U.S. control in 1944. The Americans then built up an air base there, which saw heavy action for bombing runs during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The United States plans to move 8,000 Marines and 10,000 dependents from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam by 2014 as part of a global realignment of U.S. forces.
According to the Guam Election Commission, there are about 48,000 voters out of the island's 170,000 people, and about half of them are registered Democrats.
Only about 4,000 of these are likely to vote in the Democratic primary, but that is a huge jump from the 1,500 who voted in 2004.
The territory will also send five superdelegates to the Democratic convention.
People in Guam vote for a 15-seat unicameral house but have no electoral votes in the U.S. presidential elections.
"While it is ironic that Guamanians cannot vote for president, it is even more ironic that Guam has no voice in the U.S. Senate," McNinch said.
"For the first time since President Kennedy was elected in 1960, the president elected in 2008 will come directly from the U.S. Senate. Thus, the people of the U.S. territories face many ironies in their political relationships with the U.S. federal government."
But Guam is an island that has its own priorities. Democratic voters in the village of Inarajan cast their votes for the primary on April 26, so the village could celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph through the weekend of May 3.
On an island that has an annual calendar of fiestas set in stone, nobody has found that the least bit extraordinary.