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Eye On Candidates
March 25, 2016

Candidates Plan for Contested Convention

As the possibility of a contested GOP convention becomes more likely, the three remaining Republican candidates are planning how to eke out a win on the first or any other ballot to be held. National Journal has an interesting look at the pursuit of so-called “unbound delegates,” those who arrive at the convention without any binding pledge to support a specific candidate:

The Race Is on for Unbound Delegates

On March 12, Rich Counts won a tick­et to the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion in Clev­e­land as a D.C. del­eg­ate for Marco Ru­bio. Three days later, the sen­at­or dropped his pres­id­en­tial bid, and Counts be­came a wanted man….

Del­eg­ates such as Counts will be in high de­mand at the con­ven­tion in Ju­ly. The way the rules are writ­ten, Counts is still re­quired to vote for Ru­bio on the first bal­lot even though he’s no longer in the race. But if no can­did­ate emerges with a ma­jor­ity of the del­eg­ates, Counts will be free to sup­port whomever he wants dur­ing the next round.

And the way the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial race is shap­ing up, every single del­eg­ate will mat­ter. While Don­ald Trump holds a healthy lead in the race, there’s still a de­cent chance he will fall short of the 1,237 del­eg­ates needed to clinch the nom­in­a­tion, mean­ing the GOP con­ven­tion could be open for the first time in 40 years.

Trump, as well as his two rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich, are as­sidu­ously pre­par­ing for that pos­sib­il­ity. Aside from court­ing del­eg­ates who could be­come free agents dur­ing the con­ven­tion, cam­paigns are also en­ga­ging in the te­di­ous task of turn­ing out their sup­port­ers at state and loc­al con­ven­tions around the county in the com­ing months to fill del­eg­ate slots.

Delegates like Counts, who will either be “released” by the Rubio campaign to vote for another candidate on the first ballot or at least will be able to vote for whomever they want on subsequent ballots, aren’t the only ones with such freedom. The entire Colorado delegation and many of the delegates from Pennsylvania are also unbound:

Each state and ter­rit­ory has dif­fer­ent rules for how their del­eg­ates are se­lec­ted and whom they are pledged to sup­port. But in some places, del­eg­ates have the abil­ity to choose any can­did­ate they want from the start. The biggest pots of these types of del­eg­ates fall in Col­or­ado and Pennsylvania.

In Col­or­ado, where Re­pub­lic­ans de­cided not to hold a pres­id­en­tial nom­in­at­ing con­test this cycle, 34 of the 37 del­eg­ates will be elec­ted at the state con­ven­tion April 9. The oth­er three are the Col­or­ado GOP chair­man and the state’s two RNC mem­bers, all of whom will re­main un­com­mit­ted un­til the Ju­ly con­ven­tion….

Mean­while, 54 of Pennsylvania’s 71 del­eg­ates—three for each of the state’s con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts—are of­fi­cially un­bound and will be elec­ted dir­ectly dur­ing the April 26 primary.

NBC News also looks at convention strategies, with a focus on Trump:

While Trump publicly dismisses talk of a battle in Cleveland, he is quietly assembling a team of seasoned operatives to manage a contested convention. Their strategy, NBC has learned, is to convert delegates in the crucial 40 days between the end of the primaries and the convention - while girding for a floor fight in Cleveland if necessary….

[Barry Bennett, former Ben Carson campaign manager now leading delegate strategy for Trump] says the campaign has planned two distinct phases for winning in an open convention.

First, there is a window to lock down delegate commitments between the last primary on June 7 and the convention start on July 18.

"You've got 40 days between the last primary and the convention," Bennett says, "to go woo the appropriate number of unbound delegates." It's a long time if the gap is small….

The math shows that this is an achievable path.

There are now 323 delegates currently up for grabs on the first ballot. These are delegates who backed Rubio and Carson or hail from states that don't bind their vote, (such as Colorado and North Dakota).

If Trump falls short by 100 delegates, he could close the gap by locking in one out of three of those unbound delegates. That is certainly possible, considering he has won about 37 percent of all votes so far.

NBC News also notes that the Cruz campaign is working to nail down delegates as well:

[T]he Cruz campaign is already proving it is trying to out-organize Trump at state party conventions, where they can add to their delegate count in order to better position themselves to stop Trump in Cleveland. Only two states have held those local conventions so far, and Cruz successfully added to his delegate count in Louisiana earlier this month.

Most assessments are that Trump could still clinch a majority of pledged delegates on the last day primaries are held, June 7, when California and a few other states vote. But if that doesn’t happen, he and the other two candidates vying for the GOP nomination will find themselves in a battle unlike anything seen in the last forty years.