WASHINGTON – Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are opening their second front in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, and it’s as nasty as their first.
Already competing for popular votes in primaries, they are now also engaged in a hot fight for the delegates who will cast the actual votes for the nomination at this summer’s national convention in Cleveland.
Trump, who has won more contests than Cruz, is consistently getting out-hustled on the delegate front by Cruz. Cruz is aggressively working to make sure many of the delegates selected in party meetings long after primaries – even those bound to support Trump on a first ballot at convention – are willing or eager to vote for Cruz should the convention fail to reach a majority the first time and have to go to later ballots.
“It’s a rigged system, folks,” Trump complained on Fox News on Monday.
Campaigning in Southern California, Cruz dismissed Trump’s complaints as sour grapes.
“Donald has been yelling and screaming,” Cruz told supporters. “A lot of whining. I’m sure some cursing. And some late-night fevered tweeting.”
While the numbers of delegates in most states are awarded to candidates based on popular vote totals in primaries, many are bound to support the candidate only on the first or first few ballots. Now that it appears possible that Trump might not have a majority of delegates locked up in the primaries, the likelihood of a contested convention with multiple ballots is putting a spotlight on the actual people selected to fill those delegations.
“When you’re going to run for president, you should probably know the rules,” Republican pollster David Winston said.
Party chairman Reince Priebus insisted the rules have long been known to candidates, and said there is no rigging of the system.
In Colorado, for example, Cruz bested Trump and captured all 34 Republican convention delegates awarded through a series of party meetings this month in the state’s congressional districts and at a state party convention Saturday.
Priebus told conservative radio host Mike Gallagher on Monday that the results, which did not include a popular primary vote, were “not an affront to the people of Colorado. It just is what the rule is.”
Just because one candidate wins a state during the primary season doesn’t necessarily mean that candidate wins all or even the bulk of the state’s convention delegates. Each state has different rules governing the awarding of delegates to the party conventions. They can be winner-take-all, or divided proportionately, and divided further between at-large delegates and those from individual congressional districts.
A further wrinkle in state rules is that delegates are usually pledged to the candidate who won their state on only the first ballot of the convention. Delegates usually are free to vote for anyone they want after that. Cruz’s strategy appears to hinge on such a scenario: Trump falls short on the first ballot, and delegates flow to him on the second ballot, making Cruz the winner.
Cruz came in third in the South Carolina primary, for instance. Trump won. But as congressional district meetings to select convention delegates got underway over the weekend, Cruz was leading.
“The first two ballots, only Trump and Cruz matter,” said Henry Barbour, a national Republican Party committee member from Mississippi. “Trump has to win on the first ballot. Cruz has to win on the second.”
If there still is no clear winner by then, “the third ballot could go any number of ways,” Barbour said.
Meanwhile, the state-by-state primaries and caucuses continue. The next significant contest is the New York state primary April 19.
Without a sizable Trump win in New York, where 95 delegates are up for grabs, it’s more likely that a contested convention looms.
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