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GOP Presidential Candidates Line Up in V.I.

The battle for the Republican nomination for U.S. president has reached the Virgin Islands, where the current two top contenders have paid $20,000 each for a spot on the Republican primary ballot.

Although V.I. residents cannot vote for president, they do have representation at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions at which a party nominee is formally selected.

So far, former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have formally put their names forward for consideration when V.I. Republicans vote their preference at a local caucus, according to Gordon Ackley, the GOP state chair for the Virgin Islands.

“I’m expecting three more” to sign on before the end of this month, he said. The three are former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

“We’ve reached out to all the camps,” Ackley said.

Any registered Republican voter in the Virgin Islands may vote at the party caucus, which is tentatively scheduled to be held on Feb. 26, he said. There will be gatherings in each district that day at a time and place to be announced.

Besides voting on their choice for a national Republican presidential nominee, the caucus participants will select members of the local State Committee as well as the Virgin Islands National Committeeman and the National Committeewoman.

Per the Candidate Declaration and Qualification Form — a copy of which Ackley shared — candidates for the local party offices have to present nominating petitions signed by V.I. Republicans. A total of 20 signatures are required for candidates for the State Committee. At least 30 signatures are required for State Committeeman or Woman — 15 from each of the two districts, St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John.

There is no such eligibility requirement for the presidential hopefuls. But they must pay a fee to the V.I. Republican Party. The cost is $20,000 if paid before Sept. 30 and $50,000 if paid after Sept. 30 and before Jan. 1, 2024.

The “discounted” pre-Sept. 30 fee was an incentive to get candidates to sign on early, Ackley said, adding that the money is needed to cover the cost of the caucus.

The Virgin Islands will send just nine voting delegates to the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Milwaukee, July 15-18, 2024. Ackley said six of the nine will be selected in what he called “a complex procedure” after the caucus. The top three officers — state chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman ­— comprise the other three delegates.

Each state and territory has its own regulations about its delegates. Some select them in caucuses and some in primary elections.

For the Virgin Islands, Ackley said, on the first ballot at the convention, all nine delegates are bound to vote for the presidential candidate that was selected by the local Republicans in the caucus. If the convention does not select a nominee on its first ballot, then the V.I. delegates may vote for any candidate on subsequent ballots.

Close to 2,500 voting delegates are expected at the convention, according to Ballotpedia. Many states will be sending 40 or more; California has about 170.

That makes the Virgin Islands’ nine votes very small potatoes, a fact understood well by local Republicans.

The V.I. Republican Party itself is small. According to the Elections System website, the latest figures for registered voters (as of June this year) are just 1,107 Republicans, compared with 9,804 “No party” and 23,483 Democrats.

Ackley is not expecting any of the presidential candidates to make a personal appearance in the territory. It just wouldn’t be worth the travel time they would have to devote to it, he said.

However, he said, “Ron DeSantis has agreed to do a video townhall,” and the party has offered the same opportunity to the other candidates.

“My job is to ensure there’s a level playing field for all the candidates,” he said, adding he’s counseled other party leaders. “Our job is to be fair and balanced.”

To that end, he’s considering getting an independent third party to come in and run the caucus to allay any concerns about nepotism.

Division has rocked the small V.I. party ever since the 2016 election. There were bitter fights over leadership, angry public statements, lawsuits and countersuits.

“Unfortunately, the party was destroyed and now we’re rebuilding it,” Ackley said.

Beyond the national politics, he wants to concentrate on getting Republicans elected to local offices.

“I’m trying. I’m trying. I’m trying. I’ve worked so hard on this,” he said.

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