The tiny U.S. territory of Guam holds its Democratic caucuses this weekend. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have established base camps on the island — part of an intense effort to snap up the four delegates at stake when voting concludes on the North Pacific island that was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in 1898.
The tight presidential race this year has thrust what would normally be irrelevant primaries and caucuses into the headlines. "In theory, [Guam] is bigger than Michigan and Florida this year," jokes Chris Hartig, general manager of Guam Public Radio.
Although local labor organizations have endorsed Clinton, Hartig says, some of the island's past governors support Obama. "We have no idea who's going to actually turn out on Saturday."
Guam is a three-hour flight from Japan and five hours from Australia. Crossing the entire island takes two hours by car. The territory is home to 175,000 people, more than one-third of whom are Chamorro, the indigenous ethnicity of the island. Another third are Filipino and Pacific Islander, and about 7 percent are white. The rest are Asian and other ethnicities.
Two major political hot buttons involve the military, according to Hartig. The first is a planned U.S. military buildup. About 10,000 Marines are slated to be transferred to Guam from Okinawa, and people are concerned about having the infrastructure to support them, he says. The other issue stems from Japan's occupation of Guam during World War II, Hartig says; Guam's indigenous people are seeking reparations from the U.S. government for the time that they were held prisoner.
Hartig says Obama and Clinton both support additional U.S. troops and reparations for the islanders' time in captivity.
Because the candidates agree on these meaty issues, Hartig says, people's votes could come down to something more basic. In one village that had its caucus last weekend, one of the 278 voters spoke to a reporter.
"[He] said that the Obama volunteer tent had barbecue and beer — and Hillary's campaign tent had only tuna sandwiches," Hartig says. That voter's read on the stronger candidate? "Obama is the clear winner."
Jokes aside, Hartig says Guam's voters are blown away by all the attention. "We're seeing television ads that are Guam-specific," Hartig says. "The population is so used to being told 'You really don't count.' ... To suddenly get all this attention is really bizarre for people."