Sanders wins Democratic Party’s CNMI caucus


Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) won the Democratic Party’s caucus in the CNMI over former vice president Joe Biden Saturday night at the Saipan World Resort’s Taga Ballroom.

Sanders got 77 votes from Saipan, three from Tinian, and four from Rota, for a total of 84 votes.

Biden received 40 votes from Saipan, zero from Tinian, and eight from Rota, for a total of 48 votes.

There were a total of 134 participants, including two uncommitted from Saipan, or who did not pledge to a particular candidate.

Nola Kileleman Hix, the Democratic Party of the NMI chairwoman, said in an interview Saturday that Sanders got 84 votes and was awarded four delegates, while Biden was awarded two delegates because he only got 48 votes.

Democrats also elected six “pledged delegates” to the National Convention of the Democratic Party during the caucus, with simultaneous sub-caucuses held at the Northern Marianas College’s VTC rooms on Tinian and Rota.

The elected “pledged candidates” for Sanders were Christian Punzalan, Stephen C. Woodruff, Bertran Palacios, and one still to be decided. For Biden, elected were Ambrose M. Bennett and Maria Tenorio Camacho, with Eloise Rose Enrico Lopez as alternate.

This means that the six delegates are pledged to support a particular candidate at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this July 13-16. The six “pledged candidates” and five automatic delegates will be going to the convention.

The five automatic delegates are Hix, Democratic Party vice chair Daniel Quitugua, National Committeeman Michael White, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), and whoever will be elected as the National Committee woman.

By rule, a presidential preference must get at least 15% of the total vote in order to be awarded at least one delegate, Hix said.

Because there were exactly three names on the delegate selection form for Sanders, all three of them get to go to the convention, Hix said, adding that the three delegates need to get together as a delegation and decide who their fourth person will be.

Three submitted their candidacies as part of the delegation for Sanders. They were Punzalan, Woodruff, and Palacios.

Four submitted their candidacies as part of the delegation for Biden. They were Bennett, Indalecio, Camacho, and Lopez.

Three submitted candidacies for uncommitted delegate preference. They were Pamela Brown-Blackburn, Joseph Hill, and Fran Castro.

Hix said the caucus turned out great, considering the coronavirus outbreak and several different events on Saipan happening that same day, Saturday.

“I was hoping that there would be more people that showed up, but I’m glad that people still came up. Otherwise I thought that we put on a really good show,” she said.

Hix said it definitely shows the people of the CNMI that there is a Democratic Party and if they’re looking to align with the party’s presidential candidates, this is their party.

“I’m definitely hoping for a solid turnout come midterms. I know a lot of the locals here are more inclined to local politics than national politics,” she said.

Hix said with everything that’s happening with austerity, she could see why they’d rather just not participate at all.

“So, you know, it is what it is. We had committed to hosting a caucus. It’s our second caucus ever in the history of the CNMI. And I’m really just proud that people showed up,” she said.

Hix said the next step is they wait to hear more from the Democratic National Convention because right now, there are caucuses and primaries that are being canceled throughout the U.S.

Hix is optimistic that at the end of the day, whoever the nominee is going to be, that they’re both going to work together to defeat President Donald Trump.

She said she believes Biden’s says a lot about uniting the country and bringing people together, whereas Sanders has solid policies with regards to Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal and forgiveness of student debt that appeals to people of her age.

“I think that they’re both really good candidates. And I think that they could do a lot if they kind of just bring those ideas and those voters together,” she said.

Hix said the main goal is to reclaim the White House. “The worst we could do is nothing. And we did something tonight, so I’m happy about that,” said Hix about Saturday’s caucus.

Biden did not send a representative for the CNMI caucus. Sanders sent his representative—Shannon Jackson, his campaign director in New Hampshire.

Jackson said the caucus had a lot of youth coming out. “We had a lot of people from the Chamorro community. And it was just a wonderful, wonderful, overwhelming victory for us,” Jackson said.

He said they won four delegates.

“Two to one is pretty great,” Jackson said.

Jackson thanked all the people of the islands, saying it’s been such a pleasure getting to know them and being immersed in the community.

Jackson said he felt welcomed and that he appreciates the islands; residents for opening themselves up to the campaign and embracing a lot of the ideals and morals of this campaign.

“I think it really resonated with the community and we’re excited to take the spark and go from here,” he said.

Daniel Quitugua, the Democratic Party of the NMI vice chair, said the turnout “was moderately good. We expected a little bit more but, like I said, considering what the current situation is with the health warning, the turnout is pretty good.”

Quitugua said the most important thing is that people came out and expressed their choice and that he respects the decision of the members at the caucus.

Kaela Valencia, 21, a business student at the Northern Marianas College, was among the volunteers at the caucus. “The energy was really good there. Everyone’s very excited to be there to vote,” she said, adding that she voted for Sanders because of his policies.

Valencia said as Sanders’ representative Jackson stated at the caucus, his policies are for everyone, whether young or old, from immigrant families, from non-immigrant families, and from the LGBTQ community.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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