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Trump wins delegates, VIGOP disputes how many will attend convention

Voters fill out their ballots during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at La Reine Chicken Shack on St. Croix.
Voters fill out their ballots during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at La Reine Chicken Shack on St. Croix.

ST. THOMAS — Donald Trump won the third-in-the-nation Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday against rival Nikki Haley after receiving 73.98% of the votes in a ranked-choice contest, but it is unknown how many delegates will participate in the Republican National Convention in July due to a disagreement between the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands and the national party.

Trumps win in the territory positions the former president as the party’s presumptive presidential nominee for the general election in November following wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“That is a big victory,” Trump said after calling in to the election night party organized by the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands. “We expected to win, but we didn’t expect to win by that much.”

Trump thanked the attendees as his voice echoed through the speakers set up near the stage in front of the dimly-lit conference room filled with attendees snacking on hors d’oeuvres and drinking alcohol at the Morningstar Buoy House Beach Resort at Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas.

“You are incredible people I will never forget,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

Trump also hit the airwaves with his message to Virgin Islanders Thursday morning as a call-in guest on the John Fredericks Radio Show that aired live on multiple local radio stations as residents participated in the caucus throughout the day that had one voting precinct each on St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John.

In addition to the overwhelming support for Trump, residents elected two new party officers — John Yob, a political consultant and entrepreneur with businesses on St. John and St. Croix, as Republican national committeeman; and April Newland, a second-generation Virgin Islands realtor, as Republican national committeewoman. They will serve two-year terms.

Out of the territory’s 29,533 active registered voters as of January 9, 940 were Republicans, including 585 on St. Croix, 323 on St. Thomas, and 32 on St. John, according to the Elections System of the Virgin Islands. Pending the final canvas by the Caucus Committee, Trump received 182 votes (73.98%), and Haley received 64 votes (26.02%). The other candidates on the ballot were former Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey; Governor Ron DeSantis, of Florida; Perry Johnson, a Michigan businessman; and Vivek Ramaswamy, an Ohio businessman. Senator Tim Scott, of South Carolina; and Governor Doug Bergum, of North Dakota, withdrew their names after filing and qualifying for the ballot.

Voters casts ballots during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle on St. Thomas.
Voters casts ballots during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle on St. Thomas.

In addition to winning the territory’s delegates, Trump on Thursday won Nevada’s Republican presidential caucuses after he was the only major candidate to compete. The Associated Press reported that Trump will win most, if not all the state’s 26 delegates. The next GOP primary will be February 24 in Haley’s home state of South Carolina. Trump is expected to pick up more delegates during the March 5 Super Tuesday contests, which would move him closer to becoming the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. He needs 1,215 delegates to do so.

The Republican National Committee recognized Fred Vialet Jr., a St. Thomas Republican, with the 2024 RNC Frederick Douglass Award during the election night party. Vialet, whose uncle, David Vialet, co-founded the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands in 1948, advised the territory’s first elected governor, Gov. Melvin Evans, a Republican.

 Delegate dispute:

The Virgin Islands is hoping to send nine delegates and six alternate delegates to the Republican National Convention. The delegates will be bound to vote for Trump in the first round of voting at the convention. If a candidate didn’t already receive enough votes to secure the nomination, they will then be allowed to vote for any candidate in subsequent rounds, which will continue until a candidate receives more than 50% of the votes to become the party’s presidential nominee.

The Delegate Selection Committee, which is composed of Dennis Lennox as the executive director, the three VIGOP officers and the party’s Finance Committee chair (Newland), met today at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort to select three contingent slates of delegates and alternates based on three mathematical formulas of what the Virgin Islands receives as delegates and alternates to the 2024 Republican National Committee, Lennox said.

The national party and local party disagree on how many delegates will be allowed to participate in the Republican National Convention from July 15 to 18 in Milwaukee that formally nominates the GOP presidential and vice-presidential ticket.

The first version of the three slates is four delegates and two alternates, Lennox said. The second version is six delegates and two alternates. The third version, which he said the VIGOP believes to be the correct number, is nine delegates (six elected delegates and three superdelegates — Republican national committeeman, Republican national committeewoman, and state chair — and six alternates.

“Some people have said that there was a penalty that needs to be applied,” Lennox said. “We disagree with that.”

If there was a penalty that needs to be applied, he said the question remains regarding how it would be calculated. He questioned if it would be 50% of the six delegates, which is three, or is it 50% of the nine delegates, which would be an odd number of four rounded down.

“The issue is the math that has been widely reported that it’s four, we do not believe that to be the correct math,” he said. “We believe that if there is a penalty, the number should be six delegates from the Virgin Islands, not four.”

Lennox also discussed national reports that VIGOP lost five delegates out of nine because it held a ranked-choice caucus before mid-March that violated national party rules due to be winner-take-all contests.

“What the national party rules prohibit before March 15 is a winner-take-all allocation of delegates; that is to say the candidate who wins gets all the votes,” Lennox said today, noting the VIGOP did not have a winner-take-all contest. “We had a proportional, except if somebody got more than 50% of the vote, then they received all the delegates. The RNC’s position is ranked-choice voting creates an automatic 50% because they’re of the opinion that it was impossible for somebody to win yesterday with less than 50% of the vote. The issue is there’s actually nothing in the Republican Party rules that prohibits ranked-choice voting, so it’s not decided, and the Republican National Committee is aware that they have to address the math, and as soon as they tell us what the correct number is, we will submit the correct slate.”

The Delegate Selection Committee will elect the delegates and alternates from a pool of 12 candidates who timely filed for consideration. They are Newland and Clendenin, as well as Alexandra Bonthron, Barbara de la Portilla, Gary Elkins, Jameson Engelhard, Nathan Granger Fletcher, Alexandria Coronado Hughes, James Hughes Jr., Michael McCarty, Vanessa Mull Coffen, and Valerie Stiles.

Caucus impact:

Voters who participated in the territory’s unique race for the GOP presidential nomination decided Trump as the winner by ranked-choice voting, which allowed electors to vote for multiple candidates in order of preference.

“Going third-in-the-nation with an unrigged caucus using ranked-choice voting not only gave every candidate a fair and equal playing field, but it resulted in unprecedented attention for the Virgin Islands,” Gordon Ackley, VIGOP chair, who was elected to a four-year term as the party’s state chair in 2022, said in a statement. “Based on the results, the Virgin Islands has put Donald Trump on track to become the presumptive Republican nominee.”

Ackley, a retired St. Thomas businessman and Air Force veteran, cast his first-ever direct vote for president as previous Republican caucuses in the territory were irrelevant, and generally limited to an individual vote for delegates, according to the VIGOP.

The nation’s 45th president captured all the territory’s delegates who will participate in the Republican National Convention. Representative Wesley Hunt (R-TX), who stumped for Trump in the territory two weeks ago, has been rumored as a possible running mate, the VIGOP said in a statement issued Thursday night.

Representative Wesley Hunt (R-TX), right, speaks with Ronald Pickard, who ran as an independent in the territory’s gubernatorial race in 2022, during a Republican Party in the Virgin Islands Commit to Caucus event January 27 at the Palms at Pelican Cove on St. Croix.
Representative Wesley Hunt (R-TX), right, speaks with Ronald Pickard, who ran as an independent in the territory’s gubernatorial race in 2022, during a Republican Party in the Virgin Islands Commit to Caucus event January 27 at the Palms at Pelican Cove on St. Croix.

Hunt, a first-term representative who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories, spoke about his trip to the territory during a Commit to Caucus event on January 27 at the Palms at Pelican Cove on St. Croix. He said his objective was to ensure Trump gets back in office.

“It’s time for our party to coalesce around him so we can really focus on getting our country back, making sure that we get our economy back, making sure that we have a sovereign border, and, just the time for us to be divided must end, and so that’s what I am here doing — is to advocate on behalf of President Trump to make sure that he is our 47th president,” Hunt said.

Stumping for votes:

Representatives Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL-13) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) stumped for Trump Thursday on St. Thomas and St. John before participating in the VIGOP election night party as platform guests.

Luna, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said while visiting the St. Thomas voting precinct at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort that she looks forward to pushing legislation to aid the territory when it comes to the VI government’s challenges in matching available federal funds. She also spoke of the VI Republican caucus.

“This is an incredible opportunity for the people to really make their voices heard, and we had President Trump phone in earlier, so we’re real excited to hear his message,” Luna said. “And we look forward to not only lowering the price of gas but also making sure you guys have good representation in Washington.”

Representative Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL-13), left, speaks with Republican National Committeeman John Clendenin, middle, and Republican National Committeewoman Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas.
Representative Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL-13), left, speaks with Republican National Committeeman John Clendenin, middle, and Republican National Committeewoman Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas.

While Trump also dispatched Representative Byron Donalds (R-FL-19) to headline Republican receptions in the territory, Haley sent a senior staffer to the Virgin Islands and made two virtual pitches for votes of Virgin Islanders during VIGOP events held ahead of the caucus.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who resigned to serve as United Nations ambassador in 2017 and 2018 during the then-Trump administration, addressed issues concerning VI residents during her second Zoom call Monday at The Terrace Restaurant in The Buccaneer Beach and Golf Resort. After discussing Trump’s shortcomings and her goals if elected president, she responded to questions about the inability for Virgin Islanders to vote for president, judicial nominees, and deregulating elements of environmental protection to aid in the restart of St. Croix’s oil refinery.

Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI), right, while stumping for former President Donald Trump, talks with St. Thomas residents Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas after they voted in the Virgin Islands Republican caucus.
Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI), right, while stumping for former President Donald Trump, talks with St. Thomas residents Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas after they voted in the Virgin Islands Republican caucus.

Ackley spoke during the Commit to Caucus event at the Palms about the significance of moving up the territory’s Republican caucus, which traditionally took place between March 1 and May 31. He said the caucus was previously the 20th to 30th caucus in the country, noting the voices of Virgin Islanders who participated in it when it was held at that time didn’t really count.

“We’re actually going third in the nation, and we’ve picked up a lot of press, a lot of good coverage,” he said at the event at the Palms. “We’ve had great response from Nikki Haley’s camp, Ron DeSantis’ camp, Donald Trump’s camp, where they’re actually finally listening to the voices of the people in the Virgin Islands, which for a long time we’ve been neglected.”

Ackley and the VIGOP haven’t had a great response from a former Republican national committeewoman who has spoken out about moving up the caucus date.

Caucus concerns:

Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, a member of the VI Board of Elections who is also a former Virgin Islands senator, wrote to the Republican National Committee in protest of the territory’s earlier caucus date in addition to speaking on local radio stations leading up to the caucus. She said Ackley went to the RNC, changed rules of the party, and wanted a waiver to legitimize the earlier caucus date.

Lennox dismissed her concerns, pointing out that Belardo de O’Neal is not an officer of the party and holds no position within the party. She has also spoken out about Ackley’s term as state chair, and questioned the motives of the party’s newly-elected national committeeman and national committeewoman. Belardo de O’Neal urged voters to write in alternative candidates, which would have spoiled their ballots.

“My proposal is for us to go there and come up with people that we can write in, so that we can challenge them because I cannot see Gordon Ackley, I cannot see April Newland, and I cannot see John Yob representing the Virgin Islands and the Republican Party in the national level when these people, most of them are outsiders, and most of them, well, all of them are Caucasians,” she said January 30 on The Reef 103.5 FM. “Our community is Black, our community is humble people, majority built of people from the Caribbean islands, our people are from Puerto Rico and people from the stateside. We welcome everybody, but to take over our party and not send one person that represent us in that convention is wrong … ”

Ackley and Lennox took offense to her comments.

“I know she’s been on a lot of media, and she’s made a lot of really off-the-wall comments that really, really don’t deserve a response,” Ackley said. “A lot of them are racist, I feel, you know, she singles out Caucasians.”

Lennox suggested Belardo de O’Neal’s “racist attacks” were aimed at voter suppression.

Belardo de O’Neal defended her comments while speaking on 103.5 FM on January 30.

“I’m not saying I’m racist against the white people, no,” she said. “The white people have come here, and we embrace them with open arms, but some only come for self-interests, and the ones who have taken over our party are only for self-interests.”

Belardo de O’Neal cast her caucus ballot Thursday morning at the La Reine Chicken Shack on St. Croix.

Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, a former Virgin Islands senator and former Republican national committeewoman, casts a ballot during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at La Reine Chicken Shack on St. Croix.
Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, a former Virgin Islands senator and former Republican national committeewoman, casts a ballot during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at La Reine Chicken Shack on St. Croix.

“I came out and voted and I voted, like I’ve been saying on the radio, I voted, and I write in my candidate,” she said. “They’re not accepting write in, but I’m gonna still write in, and whether they count it or not, that’s their problem.”

VIGOP offices:

Newland won the only contested party office with 54.5% of the votes, beating the only other candidate — Republican National Committeewoman Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht. Lennox said it is the VIGOP’s stance that the current seat for the national committeewoman is vacant until the newly-elected Newland assumes the position because Gumbs-Hecht broke the rules by missing at least three meetings.

Yob ran unopposed to serve as Republican national committeeman. Lennox said Johann “John” Clendenin was appointed as the territory’s national committeeman to fill out the term after the disqualification of Republican National Committeeman Jevon Williams for failing to meet residency requirements. Clendenin did not run to continue serving as national committeeman.

“There’s a question of how much longer Mrs. Gumbs-Hecht is going to be recognized as the current committeewoman, so if the RNC determined that the position of committeewoman was vacant, then Miss Newland would be appointed to fill out the remainder of Mrs. Gumbs-Hecht’s term,” Lennox said, later clarifying the terms of national committeeman and national committeewoman run from the adjournment of one Republican National Convention to the adjournment of the next. “The same with Mr. Williams. It is our position that John Clendenin is the current national committeeman.”

Both Newland and Clendenin are candidates to serve as delegates to the national convention.

“The final selection may change depending on who the RNC officially recognizes as the superdelegates, and we think that decision is going to come in very short order,” Lennox said, later clarifying that Newland may or may not be a superdelegate before the national convention because she is the national committeewoman-elect.

During the caucus, voters also elected six members of the Republican State Committee who ran unopposed, including three from St. Croix (Engelhard, Coffen, and Krystal Flores) and three from St. Thomas (Bonthron, David Weisher and Mark Zion).

A voter fills out a ballot at the voting station during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas.
A voter fills out a ballot at the voting station during the Virgin Islands Republican caucus Thursday at Bluebeard’s Castle Resort on St. Thomas.

Tom Eader is the Chief Reporter for WTJX. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Eader received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University, where he wrote for his college newspaper. He moved to St. Croix in 2003, after landing a job as a reporter for the St. Croix Avis. Eader worked at the Avis for 20 years, as both a reporter and photographer, and served as Bureau Chief from 2013 until their closure at the beginning of 2024. Eader is an award-winning journalist, known for his thorough and detailed reporting on multiple topics important to the Virgin Islands community. Joining the WTJX team in January of 2024, Eader brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the newsroom.
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