Guam: US primary rivalry livens former Spanish colony

Most US citizens do not know that the Stars and Stripes fly in Guam. Most people, in fact, do not know where to find Guam.

However, thanks to the close race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, the small island in the Pacific has found its place on the map, the dpa reported.

Obama narrowly beat out Clinton in Democratic caucuses on Saturday by just seven votes, or 50.1 per cent to 49.9 per cent, CNN reported. Obama took 2,264 votes, while Clinton got 2,257 votes.

Ahead of the vote, Obama wrote a letter that local media published Friday. Clinton promised to work for the island's voting rights, and former US president Bill Clinton phoned Guam radio stations to promote his wife's candidacy.

Both candidates have broadcast campaign ads on the island's television stations, and Obama even opened an office in the capital, Hagatna, with three people working full time.

According to Guam media, the Clintons have capitalized on several visits to the island, including a stopover on their way to Asia.

Obama, in turn, is exploiting his Pacific connection, as he was born in Hawaii and grew up in Indonesia.

"I learned first-hand about the unique issues facing Pacific island communities," he said in his letter.

Gaining favour with the US territory's delegates is the motivation of these efforts.

The Democrats will formally choose a presidential candidate at their nominating convention in late August in Denver.

Each vote counts in the closest-ever nomination race. According to the website, Obama had 1,738 delegates, to Clinton's 1,599 before Guam's votes were tallied and ahead of the next key contests in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday. Both are still a long way off the 2,024 needed to secure the nomination.

Guam will elect four delegates with full voting rights, and Saturday's results evenly split those delegates with two for each candidate.

More important than the number of delegates, however, is the chance to flaunt a triumph over the losing rival - even if that triumph takes place more than 20 hours from Washington on an island with only 170,000 people. They are, in fact, living a day ahead of the rest of the United States.

Guam has little in common with the mainland, and its importance is almost exclusively strategic. The 550-square-kilometer island is home to US Navy and Air Force bases.

"People give me strange looks when I say I am from Guam," says Kristina Horgan.

She arrived on the island when she was just 7 months old, lived there for 25 of her 35 years, and now lives in Washington.

"Most people do not know where it is, and they change the subject or simply nod. Only some people with military connections know where it is," Horgan added.

Other people are even more blunt.

"My roommate in college once asked me if we drank blood in Guam. I should have told her that we did, that we drank it in coconut shells," Horgan said.

Guam, locally called Guahan, was discovered by Europeans during the 16th-century circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan. Formally a Spanish colony, Spain ceded it to the United States in 1898, following the Spanish-American War.

As in the Philippines, Spanish influence is still apparent in Guam. Its governor's name is Felix Perez Camacho, it has a Roman Catholic majority and born islanders call themselves "chamorros."

The sudden attention from the mainland, even if it lasts only a few days, is welcomed by most residents on an island that has a long history of making demands on Washington. However, some see a situation plagued with hypocrisy.

"I'm struck by the fact that the former president (Clinton) is calling once again for our island's assistance when it is Guam that has needed the help of the Clintons and the federal government for many years," former island resident Ryan Flynn wrote in the daily Marianas Variety.

More than likely, once Saturday's primary is over, Guam faces a rapid return to obscurity. The winning candidate will have no political need to return ahead of the November election because - just like the residents of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands - the inhabitants of Guam have no vote in US presidential elections.

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