Romney's Island Getaway

He won Guam and the Northern Marianas. Could the delegate front-runner sweep the upcoming island primaries and caucuses?


Updated 9:58 a.m. 3/11/12 Mitt Romney has won Guam's caucus-like nominating convention held Saturday on the island where "America's day begins" -- a.k.a. Friday on the continental United States -- and the caucuses in the Northern Mariana Islands, netting 18 additional delegates total.

Original story: Of the 12 remaining Republican presidential nomination contests in the month of March, six are actually located outside the continental United States. The Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas hold their caucuses this Saturday, March 10. Hawaii and American Samoa follow with caucuses on Tuesday the 13th, and then Puerto Rico will hold a March 18 primary. The 79 delegates up for grabs on these islands constitute an archipelago of opportunity for former governor Mitt Romney.

Polling data for these territories is, understandably, almost non-existent, but there are some activities afoot that indicate which way campaigns are hoping the contests will go. Romney's son, the 40-year-old Matt, has been dispatched to Guam and the Marianas. Charles Djou, the former Republican congressman representing Honolulu, endorsed Romney on Thursday.

Further, to the extent that John McCain and Romney both represent the Republican establishment, it is worth noting that McCain captured all of these islands in the 2008 primary and caucus battles. (Romney fared poorly, but by that point had already dropped out and endorsed McCain.)

Other data hints at a strong Romney performance in the islands. According to Brigham Young University's Global Mormonism Project, over 70,000 Mormons live in Samoa and American Samoa and another 55,000 in Hawaii. Romney has predictably dominated this particular demographic. At a luncheon with the former Massachusetts governor's son on Friday, Northern Marianas Governor Benigno R. Fitial endorsed Romney, who dialed in and apologized for his absence: "I am apologetic that I can't be with you today, but as you could imagine I'm running from place to place, trying to secure as many delegates as I can." According to the Saipan Tribune, Romney's son Matt also said: "It is important for us to get everywhere we can, everywhere that people vote. This is obviously one of the harder locations to get to but by far, it's one of my favorites so far." Other Republican leaders in the Marianas, such as Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero, have announced for Romney.

A straw poll held by Republicans in Guam also favored Romney. Jerry Crisostomo, co-chair of the Guam GOP State Convention, explained that Romney won more than 50 of 62 votes cast because he is the candidate "most likely to beat Obama."

Rick Santorum is also making an attempt to win some of these islander delegates. He reached out to GOP leaders in Guam earlier this week for a conference call that lasted over an hour, but the response was mixed after he wound up using the call to apologize for his suggestion earlier this year that liberal judges be relegated to "Guam or something."

Frank Blas Jr., a Republican senator in the Guam legislature, said of the conference call: "Santorum's platform is about America's traditional family values and we asked, 'How does Guam fit into this family?'" The answer apparently wasn't clear.

Victories here would bolster Romney in a number of ways. First, successes stretching from Guam to Puerto Rico -- literally from sea to shining sea -- would emphasize Romney's ability to compete at the national level against the largely regional campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who perform strongest in the South.

Second, while each territory offers up as few as nine delegates, taken together the bundle is quite meaningful. Romney is virtually guaranteed the nomination mathematically, but as his negatives rise, the sooner this is over, the better for him. The island caucuses won't make significant headlines, but any extra delegates will inch him closer to the magic number that forces his competitors to finally stand down.

Third, in terms of electoral-identity politics, appealing to minority groups will be key in November, and these islands are heavy on non-white voters -- Filipinos, Chinese, Chamorros, and a wide range of Pacific Islanders from Polynesia and Micronesia. Wooing Latinos and African-Americans in a general election contest will be an entirely different kettle of fish, but given that voters in most of the GOP primaries and caucuses thus far have been more than 95 percent white, it will be interesting to see the results of the first diverse GOP primaries or caucuses.

Finally, Romney is campaigning as a man who understands international commerce. His background and stature would enable him, he argues, to walk tall as president in dealings with China on matters concerning trade, currency and exchange, job preservation, and so forth. The American Pacific islands rely on East Asian trade and tourism, and will serve as a test case for the strength of his internationalist argument.

For Romney, these territories amount to low-hanging fruit. If he can also garner Puerto Rico's 23 winner-take-all delegates, this archipelago of islands offers a delegate prize as rich as New York. So far, the use of his surrogates suggests that the Romney campaign will not be merely rolling the dice and hoping for the best.

Image credit: National Geographic