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.