The enthusiasm from the record turnout during February’s S.C. GOP presidential primary has carried over to the election of state delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where another battle could take place.
More than 190 S.C. Republican state delegates have announced intentions to run for 47 national convention seats — a number that’s expected to grow as delegate elections are held throughout the next month.
With pundits questioning if GOP front-runner Donald Trump can reach the 1,237 delegates needed to lock up the nomination on the first ballot, the convention in Cleveland could end up being a free-for-all with delegates being released after early rounds of voting in July.
Representatives of the three remaining GOP presidential candidates have been reaching out to S.C. delegates to vote for their supporters as monthlong national convention elections start Saturday with Republican congressional district conventions in Greenwood and Florence. Conventions in the state’s other five congressional districts will follow before the state Republican party convention is held in Columbia on May 7.
Delegates in each congressional district elect three delegates. Another 26 delegates will be elected at the state convention. The remaining three delegate seats belong to state party chairman Matt Moore and national committee members Cindy Costa and Glenn McCall.
Another 47 S.C. delegates can win seats as alternates to the national convention in July.
Only the roughly 900 S.C. GOP party delegates who attended last’s year state convention can run or vote for national convention delegate seats.
S.C. delegates are required to vote for Trump, the winner of all of the state’s 50 delegates in the February primary, on the first convention ballot. If Trump fails to win a majority, Palmetto State GOP delegates can vote for other candidates on subsequent ballots.
That has led to some soul searching among potential national delegates “I’ve got to pray about this a lot,” said S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington.
The pitches for delegates have started picking up. Jerry Rovner, chairman of the S.C. GOP in the 7th congressional district, said his wife received a call encouraging her to vote for a slate of delegates for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running second. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign has hired S.C. operatives to run his national delegate push.
The candidates’ continued pressure at a time when primaries campaigns usually have been decided is part of unusual intensity in presidential politics this year.
“People are not just wanting to just work for their candidate or give them a few bucks,” said Rovner, a retired Navy captain living in Pawleys Island. “Everyone is just so passionate about their candidate. I have never seen anything like this.”
With the fervor, Rovner said he’s taking some precautions with the 7th congressional district convention in Florence on Saturday. He asked S.C. GOP executive director Hope Walker and two state representative to help lead the meeting.
“I don’t want anyone to say it wasn’t fair,” Rovner said.
Rovner said he is trying to keep outbursts and arguments to a minimum. No speeches by supporters for the remaining three candidates are planned once the convention starts.
“Any lobbying will have to be in the hallway or corridors before the convention,” he said. “I’m an old military guy. I expect things to be done in two hours.”
He has 27 state delegates running for six national delegate seats — three main delegates and three alternates. Eight delegates ran in 2012.
While some observers predict that congressional and state party conventions could be a little more heated, state Republican leaders hope cooler heads will win out.
“I expect everyone to behave,” S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore said. “They know each other and they are friends. We have rarely had issues.”
S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a Lexington Republican, said he does not expect the convention to be “nearly as rambunctious as people think.”
“I think a lot of this is media driven,” he said. “People who are making a lot of money out of this are enjoying this.”
The de facto leader of the S.C. Republican party did not have any advice to offer state delegates as they begin to vote for national delegates.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley gave a tepid endorsement for Cruz after her candidate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, dropped out of the race in March. She backed Cruz after feuding with Trump, a contributor to her gubernatorial runs, over his campaign tactics and proposals including a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
The governor, who is not a state delegate, took a pass on answering a question Thursday on whether she thought S.C. GOP delegates should vote for Cruz on a second ballot in Cleveland.
“I’m not getting anywhere near that,” Haley said this week. “There’s one thing that I have stayed out of — party politics, convention politics.”
SC GOP convention
S.C. GOP state delegates will elect 47 delegates to the national convention in Cleveland. They will elect three delegates from each congressional district this month and 26 delegates at the state convention in May. They also will elect 47 alternate delegates.
More than 190 state delegates were planning to run for 47 main national delegate seats as of Thursday. The number is expected to grow since deadlines are a week before each election.
Here is a breakdown on the number delegates planning to run in each congressional district and at the state convention as of Thursday as well as dates of the conventions.
3rd District (Saturday) - 19
7th District (Saturday) - 25
4th District (Monday) - 29
1st District (April 16) - 27
6th District (April 23) - 8
5th District (April 28) - 15
2nd District (April 30) - 15
State (May 7) - 55