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Virgin Islanders Chose Obama in Historic Vote

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The final score: Obama 92.24%, Clinton/Undecided 7.76%.

Democratic voters went to polls Saturday to elect six delegates who will be granted one-half vote each at the Democratic National Convention on August 28th. Another six delegates will have one full vote each by virtue of their "super status" positions within the party. As in other primaries held thus far this year, election officials pointed to enthusiasm for the candidacy of Senator Obama as the main factor behind dramatically increased voter participation at the polls.

The groundswell of enthusiasm for the Illinois Senator's candidacy was hardly an anti-establishment movement in the Virgin Islands. His endorsement by Gov. John deJongh Jr. followed a campaign fundraiser held last fall held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel attended by virtually every elected and Democratic party official (and a few select Republicans, to boot). Voters were given the choice of 18 candidates pledged to Obama and 3 "uncommitted" candidates. Those wishing to express support for Sen. Clinton's campaign needed to "write in" a candidate for delegate.

The significance of this election did not lie with the lopsided result; nor is it the first time that the Virgin Islands have been represented at a national political convention. Few here harbor any illusions that the six half and six whole votes will have anything more than an abstract impact at the convention.

What is noteworthy about this past weekend's election was the question on the ballot prior to the choice of delegates: voters were asked to select the name of a candidate that they supported. In the five hundred years since the islands were first colonized by the various European powers, this past weekend's election was the first time residents have ever cast a ballot (even if it was symbolic) in an election for the leadership of the country "owning" their allegiance.

Holland, France, England, Spain, Denmark and the Knights of Malta have all laid claim to the Virgin Islands over the centuries. The abolition of slavery, after a century of bloody rebellions, by the Danish in 1848 left the remaining African descendants to suffer through decades of near-starvation and poverty. The acquisition of the territory by the United States in 1917 for use as a military outpost led to ham-handed attempts to impose the segregationist culture of the south upon the inhabitants.

U.S. citizenship for Virgin Islanders was established in 1927 and, after widespread rioting over economic issues in the mid-1930's, limited self governance was granted. In the ensuing decades those limits have been gradually loosened. Under President Nixon, Virgin Islanders directly elected their local government for the first time. Now the door has been opened ever so slightly, at least by the Democratic Party, so that the voices of the Islanders can be heard at the national level.

Centuries of political oppression and economic neglect have left their mark on the electorate. A deep sense of pessimism bordering on hopelessness permeates the political outlook. The sense of hope reflected in the news media surrounding the candidacy of Senator Obama is countered by the commonplace expressions by many locals that his ascendancy will come crashing down to bloody end with his assassination. Or that his candidacy will be subverted by a political establishment hell-bent on perpetuating the interventionist schemes of the current administration.

The local Republicans will hold their caucuses on April 5th. They won't be asked to name a preferred candidate.