Marco Rubio’s exit from the Republican primary on Tuesday night raised for the first time, in a serious way, the question of what happens to the delegates pledged to a candidate who’s no longer in the race.
The 169 delegates Rubio racked up during his campaign could become the focus of a tug-of-war between the remaining candidates at a contested convention in July. But as with so much in the 2016 primary, it’s complicated: While those delegates can be courted by the remaining candidates at any point — Bloomberg’s Sasha Issenberg outlined how that fight will unfold, state by state, over the next several months — state party rules vary on when they become free to cast their votes for somebody aside from Rubio, even if he isn’t officially nominated in Cleveland.
Broadly speaking, there are three tiers of delegates: those freed immediately upon a Rubio’s withdrawal from the race; those freed after a certain number of ballots at the national convention; and those freed once Rubio officially releases them, which could conceivably never happen.
Here’s a definitive guide to when Rubio’s delegates will be allowed to support another candidate at the national convention:
The Unbound: 37
The most valuable Rubio delegates are those who are immediately free, and who can cast a ballot for another candidate right off the bat. There are 37 delegates in this group right now — those Rubio picked up in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Wyoming. They are the free agents, and the three remaining candidates are already wooing them behind the scenes.
Bound for One Ballot: 96
There won’t actually be a contested convention unless no candidate receives a majority of the votes — 1,237 of them — on the first ballot in Cleveland. Ninety-six of Rubio’s delegates — those he won in Iowa, Texas, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Georgia — are required to stand by him on that first vote even though he’s dropped out. The Republican Party of Iowa specifically changed its bylaws to require delegates to vote on a first ballot in a way that actually reflects the results of the state’s caucuses after 2012, when Rick Santorum won the state, but the vast majority of the delegates Iowa sent to the Republican convention cast votes for Ron Paul. This summer, Rubio’s seven Iowa delegates will be bound to him through that first vote. Then they’re free to vote for anyone they like.
The nine delegates Rubio picked up in Tennessee are bound to him through the first two ballots.
Bound Until Released: 27
Four states where Rubio won delegates — Nevada, Kansas, Alabama, and Massachusetts — bind delegates to a candidate until they are formally released by that candidate, most likely through a public statement.
The rules differ from state to state, but they’re similar in that they all afford Rubio some power. In Nevada, for example, Rubio is entitled to hold on to his seven delegates throughout the convention, to free them to do what they wish, or to release them proportionally to the remaining candidates. It’s up to him. In Alabama, Rubio’s lone delegate is bound until he’s formally released, or until two-thirds of the state’s delegates vote to release him.
Reallocated to the Remaining Candidates: 5
These five delegates aren’t included in Rubio’s overall delegate count — the total of 164 up top — because, per Alaska’s party rules, the delegates he won in the state were immediately reallocated to the remaining candidates on a proportional basis once he dropped out. Based on the nationwide results thus far (weird, yes), Donald Trump was awarded three additional delegates, and Ted Cruz was awarded two, leaving them with 14 delegate a piece out of Alaska’s 28.
— Eliana Johnson is Washington editor of National Review.