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Politics & Government

Fight Over GOP Delegates in Washington

With the Republican presidential race still very much up in the air, the GOP primary in Washington state is more important than ever before. Republicans will be voting on May 24th. The results will determine how the state's 44 GOP delegates vote at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July – at least on the first ballot.

It’s not at all clear who will win the popular vote in the state—Trump, Cruz or Kasich. But one candidate appears to be dominating the contests to pick who becomes a delegate.

It’s a process that is happening largely behind the scenes at schools, churches, libraries and community centers around the state.

On a sunny Saturday morning, more than a hundred Republicans from the 5th legislative district in Eastern King County filled a junior high school cafeteria.

These delegates have already been elected once at their local precinct caucuses. Now many of them want to move on to the Republican State convention in Pasco, and possibly the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

"Oh, I’m Barbara Hagstrum and I’m from Duvall. And what are you doing here today? I am stumping for Trump!"

Barbara Hagstrum sits at a table with a small Trump bumper sticker affixed to the front. She says she hasn’t been involved in politics since Ronald Reagan was president. But she came out this year because she loves Trump.

"He’s not afraid to say what he feels. And that’s how the American person is. I don’t know if it’s the New York in him or what it is, but yeah, that’s what appeals to me, his boldness.

At her precinct caucus, Hagstrum says half the delegates elected were Trump supporters.

Next to her, Ted Cruz supporters sit at their table. It’s easily identified by large colorful posters.

David Hickman heads up the Cruz campaign for the district. He’s handing out a bright red sheets of paper with the names of more than 40 delegates who have pledged loyalty to Ted Cruz.

"So, what we are trying to do today is we are trying to is get as many Cruz delegates elected to the state convention as we can."

So why, you may ask, are the presidential campaigns part of delegate selection?

After all, this year, Republicans will vote in a primary May 24th. Won’t voters decide who wins the state? What do individual delegates have to do with it?

In most years, electing delegates is something of a formality. They go to the national convention with their marching orders of who to vote for.
And that’s that.

But this year, no candidate may end up with 1237 votes he needs to win the nomination on the first ballot. And so the delegates who end up on the convention floor in Cleveland might actually have a lot of power.

Here’s the Cruz campaign’s David Hickman.

"If nobody gets the magic 1237, and the the way its looking that seems probable, then the delegates at the national convention in the 2nd ballot—delegates can vote their conscience on the second ballot. We are trying to get as many people there that are pro-Cruz so that hopefully he would win the second ballot."

So here’s what that could look like. In the primary, let’s say Donald Trump wins the most votes. The state’s 44 delegates go to the convention and based on some pretty complicated math, many cast their votes for him. If Trump doesn’t win on the first ballot, then the state’s delegates are released—they can vote for whomever they choose. Cruz, Kasich, or maybe even someone who is not even running for president right now.
And so at this GOP gathering in Eastern King County, when people stand at the microphone and ask to be elected to go to the state convention, they make it very clear which candidate they support.

"My name is Eric Cowley, C-O-W-L-E-Y, I am for Donald Trump I want to go all the way to Cleveland. I think its time for a change."
"Diana Arny. I prefer Kasich but I think Cruz may be the one to beat Trump so if that’s what it takes to beat Trump, then I am going to go with Cruz."
"I am Patricia Walker, very conservative, I think the only chance to save the Constitution is to support Cruz."

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Cruz supporters are in the majority. Out of more than 70 people vying for delegate slots, only about a half dozen or so are for Trump.

"My question to the Sargeant at arms are we ready with the ballots"

And by the end of the balloting, Cruz supporters have taken every single delegate spot. 41 of them are heading to the state convention. Not one Trump supporter made it through.

Now, it’s hard to know for sure whether the story in Eastern King County is being repeated across the state. The state Republican Party isn’t keeping track of delegate preferences.

But KUOW spoke with more than a dozen GOP officials and party activists across Western Washington, and found that in most of the contests so far, the Cruz campaign has dominated.
Randy Pepple is a Republican Strategist and a John Kasich supporter. He says Trump doesn’t stand a chance of winning over party activists.
"It takes work to win delegates. It takes work to get people to show up for 2 or 3 hours on a Saturday or on Tuesday night to participate in the delegate selection process. And Donald Trump has never been willing to put in that work and he hasn’t hired people to do it for him."
Trump supporter Barbara Hagstrum admits the campaign needs a ground game. She says she only started organizing three days before the district caucus.

But Trump supporter Eric Cowley sees a more sinister plot afoot.

"I don’t like what just happened. It’s not fair, they should have a representative to be able to go to Cleveland out of my district that stands for Donald Trump. This thing is an organized thing by Ted Cruz in my opinion to steal the nomination and the Republican Party."

The fight for delegates in Washington state is far from over, though. Big contests are scheduled this weekend in Pierce, Snohomish and Whatcom Counties.

And the biggest contest of all comes at the Republican State Convention, when 1500 delegates will choose just 44 people to represent the state at the Republican National Convention in July.

Copyright 2016 KUOW.