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HomeNewsArchivesHuge V.I. Turnout Turns Into Huge Obama Win

Huge V.I. Turnout Turns Into Huge Obama Win

Feb. 10, 2008 — While presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama won big in the Virgin Islands Saturday, clinching six delegate seats for three votes at the Democratic National Convention late this summer, the Virgin Islands made local history with a staggering turnout of 2,059 voters.
And the V.I. was making national news as well. Democratic caucus organizer and party executive director Simon Caines said his phone was ringing all night. "CNN, AP, Bloomberg News, MSNBC, all wanted stats," Caines said Sunday.
Those major news websites all mention the V.I. in Sunday stories, noting "Obama swept the Louisiana primary and caucuses in Nebraska and Washington state Saturday night….The Illinois senator also won caucuses in the Virgin Islands, completing his best night of the campaign."
The Obama victory was no surprise in the territory; the local vote was, and it was a huge shot in the arm for local voters' spirit and confidence that they can make a difference.
Though up until 2:30 a.m. Sunday counting the paper ballots, Caines was still running on steam generated by Saturday's turnout.
"It was historic," Caines said Sunday. "It really is. People are excited about Obama, that's obvious, but the other thing is they are excited about the opportunity to cast a vote for that person who might actually become the president of the United States. They were actually voting to send representatives who cast a vote for their choice." (The almost 1,300 votes include provisional and write-ins.)
The reason the caucus workers toiled into Sunday morning, Caines said, was the unexpected high turnout. "Earlier, I'd thought we might finish around 10 p.m. Saturday," he said. He praised the about 10 volunteers who stayed the course, counting the individual paper ballots.
The 2004 delegate turnout, 788, pales appreciably in comparison, garnering less than half of Saturday's turnout. At the time, James O'Bryan Jr., state chair of the Democratic Party, called the 788 registered Democrats who cast votes "a record."
Caines said, "One woman actually came up to me yesterday, and said she wasn't even going to vote for a delegate, just a potential president. She said she just wanted to have something to say."
Though the polls opened at 11 a.m., Caines said folks were lined up to hear the candidates speak from 9 a.m. until the polls opened. "We had 35 or 40 people just for that alone," he said.
Caines was a delegate in previous elections, but he said, that was different. "When I ran as a delegate you just sort of asked people to support you. What we did this time was we let people the importance of casting that vote. Support for the nominee hasn't changed; we've marketed it differently.
"The voters were really fired up," Caines said. "We're more of an activist community now," Caines said in reference to St. Thomas, He expressed surprise at the comparatively low number of St. Croix voters. "They are usually a more activist group," he said.
Undeniably, the national Obama surge has swept the V.I. Unofficial totals put Obama at 1,770 territory wide, and Hillary Clinton at 144. The St. Thomas-St. John district cast 1,142 for Obama and 72 for Clinton. The St. Croix district cast 628 for Obama, and somehow, another 72 for Clinton
Big winners in the delegate race were Arah C. Lockhart, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone and Sebastiano Paiewonsky Cassinelli and James A. O'Bryan on St. Thomas-St. John and Robert Rios, Shawna K. Richards and Marise C. James on St. Croix. (A complete list of voting tallies is at end of story.)
At noon Saturday the Charlotte Amalie High School campus where voters lined up by the hundreds to pour into a tiny school room, the mood was more like a high school rally than an election. The mood was contagious, as voters chatted excitedly as they waited with uncharacteristic patience for their chance to make a difference.
The energy in the air was palpable. Candidates spread through the voters, handing out leaflets and advice, as caucus volunteer former senator Craig Barshinger was as excited as a teenager, himself, as he herded the burgeoning crowd toward the schoolroom, while drumming up business for lunch. "Right this way," Barshinger barked, "and if you're too hungry now, take some time for our food stand."
Looking over the voter line, Barshinger said, "This is better than the special election for delegate candidates. We've never had a turnout like this."
Delegate candidate and community activist Jason Budsan matched Barshinger's enthusiasm as he talked to potential voters. "Obama is so down to earth, so gentle," Budsan said. "He doesn't represent Washington politics, and he has a focus on education."
Budsan said he actually met Obama, before the Illinois senator formally declared his candidacy, a couple of years ago at a National Black Caucus conference. "Everybody there was so excited to see him, urging him to run."
Businesswoman Charlene Keogh said, "I like Obama's message to the nation that we're in for a change. That's great. It reminds me, though I was very young, of the JFK campaign."
Indeed, there was that element there Saturday for those of us old enough to remember those times. The spirit of Kennedy's campaign which ignited so many young people in the early '60s, seemed re-ignited Saturday.
Attorney Tregenza Roach, Constitution 2008 Coordinator, said, "I'm very excited. This is an historic moment for the country and for the V.I. It's important because even though we're small, we have a voice."
Not everybody was for Obama. Attorney Karin Bentz was waiting to cast her vote for Clinton, but she quizzed the process. She said she had even called the Clinton headquarters the previous evening, but got little satisfaction.
This was a consideration expressed by voters earlier in the week, but the process was simple. There was a Clinton ballot and even one for the almost totally unknown Democratic candidate Mike Gravel, a former Alaska senator.
2008 V.I. Democratic Party Presidential Caucus Unofficial Results
Barack Obama: 1770 votes, 89.9 percent of votes cast;
– Hillary Clinton: 149 votes, 7.6 percent of votes cast;
– Other and Uncommitted: 50, or .03percent of votes cast.
St. Thomas
– Barack Obama: 1144 votes, 93.5 percent of St. Thomas votes cast;
– Hillary Clinton: 72 votes, 9.7 percent of St. Thomas votes cast;
St. Croix
– Barack Obama: 628 votes, 84 percent of St. Croix votes cast;
– Hillary Clinton: 72 votes, 9.7 percent of St. Croix votes cast.
Individual delegate votes:
St. Thomas-St. John
– Arah C. Lockhart
– Shawn-Michael Malone 626
– Sebastiano Paiewonsky Cassinelli 344
– James A. O'Bryan Jr. 341
– Mark L. Stridiron 292
– Edouard "Eddie" T. deLagarde 256
– Jason Budsan 90
– Arah C. Lockhart 84
– Athniel "Bobby" J. Thomas 58
– Hector A. Squiabro 51
St. Croix
– Shawna K. Richards 289
– Marise C. James 276
– Robert Rios 273
– Wanda L. C. Morris 239
– Dodson K. James 211
– Omar B. U. Henry 75
– Elizabeth Cochrane Pichardo 53
– Anastasia Rivers 51
– Verdell Petersen 49
The territory will have nine votes at the convention. Voters at Saturday's caucus will select six delegates. St. Croix voters will vote for two women and one man. St. Thomas and St. John voters will select two men and one woman. These six delegates will cast half a vote each for three of the V.I. votes.
The remaining six votes go to superdelegates, who are automatically delegates by virtue of their position in the party. They are Gov. John deJongh Jr., who has endorsed Obama; Delegate Donna M. Christensen, who has endorsed Clinton and is a member of Clinton's health-care team; Stat
e Party Chairman Cecil Benjamin; Vice Chairwoman Marylyn Stapleton; Burke; and National Committeeman Kevin Rodriquez.
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