SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (AP) The first nine delegates to a national Republican convention from the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas say they'll all be supporting Sen. John McCain, although they won't be able to vote for him in November.
Some of the delegates elected at a party convention Saturday said they're convinced the former Vietnam prisoner of war can deliver better times for the far-flung U.S. territories in the Pacific.
The islands are one of three Pacific territories each sending nine delegates to the GOP convention. American Samoa, across the international dateline from Saipan, was picking most of its delegates later Saturday, and Guam is set to make its selection March 8.
Tom Pangelinan, territorial GOP chairman and one of the Marianas delegates, said the delegates decided to vote as a team for McCain.
"He's very knowledgeable about the islands. That's basically the rational behind our vote. We want to develop a symbiotic relationship with the U.S.," Pangelinan said in an interview.
Bo Palacios, 23, another delegate to the convention, said he believes McCain is the right person to be America's next president. The George Washington University international affairs graduate volunteered his time campaigning for McCain.
"I think McCain is the most qualified person for the job. He knows the islands. He's a leader in economic revival and he has the commitment to win the war," said Palacios.
Mary Lou Ada, another delegate, said McCain has a proven track record to lead the nation.
She said the islands need more funding for education and capital improvements.
This is the first time the GOP on Saipan is participating in any U.S. election. The group was admitted to the national Republican Party after the 2004 election.
Residents of Pacific island U.S. territories cannot vote in the presidential election.
Ana Teregeyo, vice chair of the island GOP, said few Americans know the Northern Marianas is part of the U.S. political family but McCain does.
"With him as president, I feel that we will have a better chance of being heard in Washington, D.C.," she said.
The delegates from the Northern Marianas helped McCain inch closer to the GOP nomination for president, giving him a total of 967 delegates. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is far behind with 254 delegates two less than Mitt Romney, who has quit the race and endorsed McCain.
It will take 1,191 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
A former Japanese territory, the Northern Marianas include 14 islands in the Pacific. Islanders voted to become a commonwealth of the United States and residents entered into a Covenant Agreement in 1976 that tied them to America politically.
In 1986 Northern Marianas residents became American citizens through an executive order by then President Reagan.