A presidential candidate will show up at Colorado’s Republican Assembly for the very first time in 40 years, showing a symbol of how arcane and obscure rules governing delegates in some states may lead the party to a contested national convention in July.
Appealing to faithful Saturday in Colorado Springs, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, fresh from a triumph in Wisconsin, seeks to load the state’s complement of 37 delegates with his supporters. Noting that he has already won six and has an extensive grassroots operation orchestrated by Colorado’s Tea Party network.
Having major field operations in the state, billionaire businessman Donald Trump is betting instead on grassroots momentum that’s powered his delegate lead nationwide. By the time his core staff many of whom have limited experience in national politics, is being rapidly expanded to include people who can navigate byzantine delegate rules.
In in Colorado, the competition is at its most intense. “It gets quite wild,” said Amy Stephens, director of Colorado government affairs at the law firm Dentons US in Denver. “You are going to be there a long time, so you might as well get your coffee and your granola bars and sit back.”
Nevertheless, most delegates can defect on subsequent rounds, while most of them ought to vote as their state did on the first convention. Others, with small delegations and rules that allow free-agent delegates have become pivotal as Cruz tries to deny Trump a first-vote victory. Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Guam and the Virgin Islands allow all or some delegates to remain unbound.
The intense contest for Colorado delegates began when the state party confronted the Republican National Committee by skipping a straw poll that would have bound delegates to that winner at the national convention, noting that Cruz, Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich nearly overlooked Colorado after the first Republican debate in October in liberal-leaning Boulder.
Delegates from a pool of about 600O will be chosen by party members on Saturday, two-thirds of whom have declined to say which candidate they will support. The prospective delegates will be allowed 10 seconds each to hurry across the stage at the Broadmoor World Arena and introduce themselves.
Josh Putnam, a political scientist at the University of Georgia in Athens said that in such super-decentralized system, campaigns are forced to go from delegate to delegate trying to persuade them. Noting that Putnam operates the Frontloading HQ blog, which tracks the process. “It’s a huge undertaking” He said.
“Trump supporters are out there, but their numbers are not strong,” said Regina Thomson, Cruz’s state coordinator; she added “County by county, we’ve been contacting people that we knew to be self-identified Cruz supporters.” On the other hand One Cruz supporter said that the byzantine process favors a grassroots effort.
Randy Corporon, chairman of the Arapahoe Tea Party who was elected as a Cruz delegate in the sixth congressional district after releasing a video on Facebook touting his candidacy, said “I was amazed at the number of new faces,” then added “It inspired me to put my money where my mouth is.”
Even as Trump holds a commanding national delegate lead — 743 to Cruz’s 517 and Kasich’s 143 — his recent missteps have re-energized his competitors, both of whom assembled volunteer operations in Colorado last year spearheaded by party insiders.
The campaigns are working nervously to advance the fortunes of prospective delegates who support them, promoting state legislators, university regents, local officials, and business people. Where On Saturday, more than 4,000 party faithful are expected to choose the delegates. On the matter Stephens said; “There are well over 400 people who are undeclared — you are going to see at least half be brand-new people to this convention, and that’s quite astounding.”
Several candidates on Cruz’s slate received endorsements from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Colorado and the Republican National Coalition for Life. “What set the Cruz people apart is the quality of their coordinators, and organizing very quietly and firmly,” said Joy Hoffman, chairwoman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party. “In 10 or 15 years, there should be a textbook analysis in political-science classes on the skills with which their organizational behaviors took place — they were without a doubt exceptional.”
Still, the masses of prospective delegates “are very confused about what’s going on right now,” said Stephens, a former Colorado House Republican leader and chairwoman of Kasich’s state campaign.
Some party elders filed to run as delegates hoping to steer the undecided toward their candidate of choice.
“At first I thought to let others do this,” said Mary Dambman, a former Republican National Committee member and legislator running un-pledged, but leaning toward Kasich. “Then, I thought with all these new people, they are going to need an old experienced person such as myself to explain the ropes.”