Thursday, March 24, 2016

Shadow campaign to deny Trump his delegates begins

Marh 24, 2016

Kasich and Cruz quietly work to persuade delegates to break with GOP voters in a contested convention.

When South Dakota's Republican activists convened in Pierre to pick their delegates to the Republican National Convention, they got an unexpected visitor.

Merle Madrid, senior aide to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, had flown in from Columbus to make an appeal: If the convention fails to elect front-runner Donald Trump on the first ballot, consider Kasich on the second — even if the state’s Republican voters sent them there to back Trump or Ted Cruz.

Madrid was polite and earnest, but, according to interviews with 17 of the state’s 29 delegates, he came up empty.

"Kasich will not get my vote no matter what he does. That ain’t gonna happen," said delegate Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor and tea party activist.

Madrid’s visit to South Dakota on Saturday marked one of the earliest signs that the shadow campaign for the Republican nomination has begun. Kasich and Cruz are scrambling to secure commitments from bound delegates to break off on a second ballot and vote against Trump. In many cases, that means asking delegates to buck Republican primary voters in the name of settling on a nominee.

The fight will heat up in April, when a slew of states — including Arizona, Colorado and North Dakota — begin selecting their own slates of delegates, using methods ranging from statewide and congressional district conventions to meetings of state party leaders to county-level votes or caucuses.

But if Madrid’s results are any indication, it’s not Kasich who threatens to steal Trump’s South Dakota delegates in Cleveland — it’s Cruz.

"I’m not a Kasich fan. I would vote for him over a Democrat; however, I think there’s not a lot of difference between him and a Democrat," said Florence Thompson, a delegate from Caputa who described herself as a "raving conservative."

Added Dana Randall, South Dakota's national Republican committeeman and another delegate, "I’m not anti-John Kasich, but I don’t think [Madrid] swung one vote either way."

South Dakota's delegation is top-heavy with supporters of Cruz, the Texas senator whose ideological purity has resonated in this deeply conservative Midwestern state. Most delegates expect South Dakota to devolve into a slugfest between Cruz and Trump, and Cruz's ultraconservative identity gives him an early edge.

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