Donald Trump won North Carolina’s Republican primary last month, but many of the state’s GOP convention delegates elected so far prefer the second-place candidate: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
That could spell trouble for Trump if he doesn’t arrive at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July with the 1,237 delegates required to win on the first ballot.
For the first round of voting, North Carolina’s delegate count must proportionately match the state’s March 15 primary results: 29 votes for Trump, 27 for Cruz, nine for John Kasich, six for Marco Rubio and one for Ben Carson.
Cruz has got a better ground game.
NCGOP first vice chair Michele Nix
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Any delegate who doesn’t support the assigned candidate faces a fine of up to $10,000, according to N.C. Republican Party rules. But if no candidate gets 1,237 votes on the first ballot, delegates then can support anyone they want – and for many North Carolina delegates, that’s Cruz.
“Cruz has got a better ground game,” said NCGOP first vice chair Michele Nix, who said the majority of delegates chosen so far support Cruz.
Here’s how North Carolina Republicans are choosing their 72 delegates to represent the state in Cleveland:
Each of the state’s 13 congressional districts are holding GOP conventions this month. Party leaders within each district will vote on three delegates and three alternates. So 39 delegates will be chosen by the end of the month.
Another 30 delegates will be elected at the state convention in Greensboro on May 7. Any registered Republican can apply online to be considered as a delegate. Applicants have to rank their preferred candidates, say whether they’re a party donor, and agree to pay their own costs to attend the national convention.
A 16-member committee will sort through the applications and develop a slate of delegates that hundreds of party leaders will vote on at the state convention. The selection committee includes one representative from each congressional district and three people appointed by NCGOP chairman Hasan Harnett.
Nix said the committee will consider whether applicants have donated to the party, held leadership roles or volunteered for campaign work. “I’m sure it will be also a factor as to which candidate they’ll be supporting,” she said.
The NCGOP declined to release names of the people serving on the selection committee. And it said that details about the delegates chosen at the eight congressional district conventions held earlier this month aren’t yet available.
(Cruz) has been smart and organized in trying to see to it that these delegates – regardless of whether they’re pledged to him or not – are supporters of his.
Steven Greene, political science professor, N.C. State University
N.C. Sen. Ronald Rabin of Harnett County is one of the state’s only elected leaders who endorsed Trump, and he attended the 2nd District convention in Sanford on April 9.
“There was a heavy Cruz influence at the 2nd District convention,” he said. “They vowed to vote for Cruz, and that’s why they got elected.”
Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University, said the trend is not surprising given the Cruz campaign’s success at the grassroots level.
“He has been smart and organized in trying to see to it that these delegates – regardless of whether they’re pledged to him or not – are supporters of his,” Greene said.
Greene says the delegate selection process tends to be dominated by party activists who attend local GOP meetings, volunteer and donate regularly.
“That’s not Donald Trump’s supporters,” he said. “They’re not people who have historically had enthusiasm about the Republican Party.”
Trump has made it clear he doesn’t like how much power the party establishment has in choosing delegates. While he hasn’t said anything about North Carolina’s process, he has criticized the trend of Cruz supporters winning delegate slots at congressional district conventions.
“Delegates are supposed to reflect the decisions of voters, but the system is being rigged by party operatives with ‘double-agent’ delegates who reject the decision of voters,” Trump wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion column last week. “The American people can have no faith in such a system. It must be reformed.”
Nix said she wants to serve as a pledged Trump delegate because he won North Carolina’s primary. “I believe as the Republican Party first vice-chairman, it’s my duty to support the primary winner,” she said.
NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse said he’s confident in the state’s process for choosing delegates.
“This process is designed by grassroots Republicans and it is controlled by grassroots Republicans,” he said. “There’s no way to manipulate it.”
Rabin says he’s concerned that the outcome of the national convention might not reflect the will of GOP primary voters.
“My fears and my concerns are that what happens in Cleveland doesn’t take away from ‘we the people’ notion,” Rabin said. “The constitution starts out ‘we the people’ – not ‘we the establishment,’ not ‘we the anointed few who are going to make all the decisions.’”
Rabin says he’ll support whoever the Republican nominee is, but he’s worried others might not in this divisive campaign season.
“The zealots that I have seen on either side – whether it’s Cruz or Trump – a number of them will not go to the poll (if their candidate loses), and we’ll have to go through an extension of the Obama failures,” he said.
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