For most political observers, the party primary process is simple. Each state has a primary or caucus, and awards its share of delegates to a particular candidate, or candidates, based on the results of the contest. What many do not know about is the behind the scenes fight for both bound and unbound delegates the campaigns are currently waging.
After the voting takes place, states across the country elect delegates to send to the national convention at local and/or statewide conventions. In most cases, these delegates are bound to the candidate who won the state or district wide vote; at least on the first ballot at the national convention. In other states, unbound delegates are selected by party leaders to represent their states at the convention in the summer.
An example of the former would be South Carolina. South Carolina had its primary on February 20, where Donald Trump won the statewide vote and each of its seven congressional districts to take all 50 of the state’s delegates. After the vote, County Conventions were held across the state in March to elect delegates to send to district and state conventions.
The district conventions in South Carolina just took place this month and the state convention will convene on May 7. These conventions are held to elect the delegates who will cast votes at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
An example of the latter took place in Colorado. Instead of selecting delegates in correspondence with a statewide vote, Colorado held a series of caucuses in its seven congressional districts over the last two weeks and a statewide convention last Saturday to select the delegates it will send to the national convention.
Winning delegates at these state and local conventions depends heavily on grunt work and an organized ground game. So while Trump may be winning at many ballot boxes, Ted Cruz is out hustling him in getting his campaign endorsed delegates to the national convention.
To go back to the South Carolina example; the state’s 50 delegates are pledged to Trump on the first ballot at the convention no matter what. However, in two district conventions, Ted Cruz secured three delegates endorsed by his campaign out of a total of six slots up for grabs. Trump secured one. Which means if Trump does not get to 1,237 on the first ballot, these three delegates will likely switch their support to Cruz on the second ballot.
In Colorado, where 37 delegates were up for grabs, Ted Cruz was able to get 34 people on his slate elected to serve as delegates at the Republican Convention. He dominated in both the district and state conventions. Meanwhile, Trump’s ground game in Colorado was a mess. At some of the district conventions, people were handed fliers of Trump backed delegate slates that contained inaccurate information.
In some cases, the Trump delegates were not even on the ballot to be voted for. In other cases, his campaign didn’t provide backers with any list of pro-Trump delegates. So his supporters had no idea which delegates to vote for.
It would be one thing if the problems were limited to these two instances. But in North Dakota, where the state will send 28 unbound delegates to the convention, 10 of the selected delegates are pledging their support to Cruz. Several others are said to be leaning in his direction. Only one North Dakota delegate has committed to supporting Trump.
In Iowa, the state’s four congressional districts will send 12 total delegates to Cleveland, three from each district. 11 of the 12 delegates have pledged to support Ted Cruz in the event the convention goes to a second ballot.
In Virginia, another state Trump won on it’s primary day, Ted Cruz-backed delegates were elected to two slots out of three in the state’s 9th congressional district. A Trump delegate won the other spot.
With the likelihood of a contested convention increasing by the day, grassroots organizing and the electing of delegates loyal to a candidate will be crucial.
Realizing this is now a problem, Trump has hired veteran convention manager, Paul Manafort, who ran the delegate courting operation for Gerald Ford in the GOP’s contested convention of 1976, and also managed Bob Dole’s campaign in 1996, to lead his campaign’s delegate efforts in the lead up to the convention this summer.
But organizing an operation this large and building the necessary relationships does not happen overnight. Trump already has a very narrow path to get to the 1,237 delegates he needs before the convention begins. And missing out on these opportunities to send delegates loyal to his campaign to Cleveland only increases the likelihood that he will be denied the nomination if he does not secure a majority of delegates on the first ballot.
Trump can complain all he wants about the process and the rules. But if he loses the nomination to Ted Cruz in July, it will be because Cruz, not Trump, actually put in the work to earn it.