Donald Trump clinches win at US Virgin Islands caucus, which defied Republican Party rules

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Donald Trump amassed another win at a Republican caucus held Thursday in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where officials flouted several GOP party rules, including holding the contest earlier than allowed.

The caucus is the third Republican contest held this election season with delegates at stake, with Trump receiving 73.98% of the votes and Nikki Haley 26.02%.

“I want to thank you all. We had a tremendous victory,” Trump said in brief remarks by phone to those who gathered in St. Thomas to hear the results. “We expected to win, but we didn’t expect to win by that much. You are incredible people I will never forget.”

Voters in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John flocked to a variety of venues, including a rum bar, to nominate their candidate using ranked-choice voting.

“’The weather is terrible, but we’ve had a great turnout,” said Valerie Stiles, a 71-year-old who works in retail sales and voted early on Thursday.

Stiles, who has lived 31 years on St. Croix, said many voters are angry about low wages and high inflation, adding that she was delighted the caucus was held before Super Tuesday.

“The (US) territories are overlooked a lot of the time,” she said.

Republicans have already had three contests — in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — although the latter didn’t award any delegates and didn’t have Trump on the ballot.

Joining Trump on Thursday’s ballot were Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Perry Johnson and Vivek Ramaswamy, although only Trump and Haley are still in the running.

Trump already has secured two other wins in the Republican presidential race and is the only major candidate on the ballot in Nevada’s GOP caucuses on Thursday.

Republican party officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands said they opted to hold the contest early to ensure the U.S. territory played an important role in the nomination of a candidate.

“As the Virgin Islands, like the other territories, doesn’t get to vote for president in the general election, it was important to ensure the voice and votes of voters … were heard,” Gordon Ackley, chairman of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Every state and every territory should try to make itself and its voters as relevant as possible. It’s absurd that the same couple of states have a monopoly on the calendar.”

GOP rules state that only Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina can hold primaries or caucuses before March 1. In addition, any contest held before March 15 must award delegates proportionally, while the U.S. Virgin Islands did so via ranked-choice voting.

“The Virgin Islands didn’t break any rules,” Ackley said. “We merely took advantage of an existing rule in the national Republican rules to award our nine delegates proportionally, except if the winning candidate wins with more than 50% of the vote.”

Officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands said they plan to send nine delegates and six alternates to the upcoming Republic National Convention that will be held in Wisconsin in July. However, the Republican National Committee has said the U.S. Virgin Islands has four delegates.

If they insist on sending nine, they would have to appear before the conventions committee on credentials and await a report that would determine who gets seated to the entire convention.

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Associated Press journalist Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington, D.C. contributed.

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