Politics & Policy

Cruz, Trump, and Kasich Start the Delegate Fight in Pennsylvania

Kasich campaigns in Villa Nova, Pa., in March. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty)

When Republican voters go to the polls in the mid-Atlantic states on April 26, Pennsylvania and its 71 delegates will be the biggest prize. But the winner of the popular vote in the Keystone State will be guaranteed only 17 of those delegates. The other 54 – three from each congressional district – will be elected on the ballot alongside the presidential candidates, and will arrive at the convention unbound. In a race that looks almost certain to go to a contested convention, those 54 delegates could wield a lot of power, and the campaigns will all work to win them over.

But with just two weeks until the primary, the unbound delegates are not yet feeling the love. A number of delegates who spoke to National Review say they have had little or no contact from the campaigns. And several expressed surprise at the lack of activity in the state.

“We’ve fallen between the cracks, and we’re a big bloc of unbound delegates,” says former Pennsylvania congressman Phil English, who is running for delegate in the 3rd Congressional District.

Pennsylvania is unique in the primary process. The large pool of unbound delegates is not tied to any campaign, and the campaigns do not necessarily file a slate of delegate candidates for their supporters to choose. The delegates are responsible for getting the necessary signatures to petition their way onto the ballot, and then for publicizing their candidacy. Voters might not know what they’re getting with a vote for a delegate: Some delegate candidates openly say which candidate they plan to support, but others are running as uncommitted, saying they will make a decision later, when there might be more clarity in what has been a rollercoaster of a campaign. There is reason to be wary of making a commitment: Delegate candidates had to file their paperwork to get on the ballot by February 17, and most began the process in January, when there were many more presidential hopefuls in the race. Some people filed to run for delegate to support someone who is no longer a candidate. And the remaining campaigns have been slower to invest financial resources or to hold events in the state, owing to its late date, meaning that many of those delegates might win a spot on the ballot having had little contact with the campaign they’ll ultimately support.

All of this makes the courtship period somewhat tougher for the presidential campaigns.

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In some districts, the campaigns may not want to waste resources on a lot of people who will not end up becoming delegates. For instance, the 4th Congressional District has 15 people — including a former congressman, two county party chairmen, and two state representatives — vying for the three delegate slots.

But then there are people like Chris Vogler, a delegate candidate in the 1st Congressional District. Vogler, barring extraordinary developments, will definitely be a delegate: There are only three candidates for delegate vying for the three spots in his district. But Vogler says that, so far, he has been contacted only by the Trump campaign. Someone reached out to him a couple days ago, trying to sound out where he stood on things, and asking to meet with him.

Vogler, who entered the process as a Rubio supporter, says he is uncommitted now as to which candidate he will support. “I’m going to seriously consider how this district votes as a big part of my criteria. Is that going to be what I do? No, not necessarily. . . . I want to pick who I feel is going to be our best candidate in the fall.” But the lack of outreach from the campaigns “surprises” him, given that his status as delegate is assured.

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David Hackett, one of the other delegate candidates in the 1st District who is also uncommitted, tells National Review the only outreach he’s seen from the campaigns was a call from the Trump campaign last week.

Seth Kaufer, the third delegate candidate in that district, says he’s heard “a little bit from each” of the campaigns, but predominantly from local volunteers. Kaufer, who, like the other two, is running as uncommitted, says he had been contacted by a person leading the state effort for one of the campaigns but declined to say which campaign that person was from. “I think it was mostly just [to] introduce themselves or feel me out or see what my thought process is,” he says.

Mike Devanney and Mary Ann Meloy, delegate candidates in the 14th district who are also assured delegate spots in a district with only three contenders on the ballot, said they had not been lobbied by any campaign.

Several delegates say Marco Rubio’s exit from the race created a vacuum in terms of organization on the delegate front.

Several delegates say Marco Rubio’s exit from the race created a vacuum in terms of organization on the delegate front. “They were the campaign that was really focused on recruiting delegates to run,” says Devanney, a political consultant who was backing Rubio. “I would have proudly been casting a vote for nomination for Marco Rubio if he were going to be on the ballot.” With Rubio out, he is entering the primary uncommitted.

For most of the 14 delegates who spoke with National Review, the active wooing has not yet commenced. Campaigns, for the most part, have only recently begun their outreach.

Vogler, Hackett, Calvin Tucker, and Aldridk Gessa — all Philadelphia-area delegate candidates — said they had been contacted by the Trump campaign in the past few days. Tucker says he was asked to support Trump on the first ballot, and he replied that he is uncommitted. Gessa, who is publicly supporting Cruz, says the call was to feel her out and get a sense of whether she was in the “Never Trump” camp, or could be convinced to support Trump.

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Meloy, a longtime party insider, said she suspects there may have been a quiet effort by Trump’s campaign to recruit delegates in the state, because many of the people who are running for delegate are not known to the party regulars. “It’s most unusual not to know the names of the people on the ballot. The overwhelming majority are unknowns to us as Republican workers and volunteers,” explains Meloy, a former member of President Ronald Reagan’s personal staff who is running for delegate in the 13th District.

#share#Trump has led every poll in Pennsylvania over the past month, though some polls have shown Kasich and Cruz within striking distance. Trump has the support of Representative Lou Barletta, the congressman from the 11th district, and Representative Tom Marino, who represents the 10th district; he might be able to tap into their networks.

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“The support for Donald Trump in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District has been overwhelming,” says Barletta in a statement e-mailed to National Review. “I have never seen energy for a candidate like I am seeing for Trump. People are calling our campaign office every day asking how they can help and volunteer with the Trump campaign. The support is not just coming from Republicans, either. Countless Democrats have told me they switched to Republican to vote for Trump.” E-mails to a Marino staffer and to Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks went unreturned.

But comments last week from Trump’s sometime adviser Roger Stone rubbed some unbound delegates the wrong way. Stone alleged on Freedomain Radio that there was a plot afoot to wrest the nomination from Trump at the convention. He promised to publicize the hotel-room numbers of delegates who participated “in the steal,” mentioning the Pennsylvania delegation in particular.

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Three delegates say they were put off by those comments. “It made me very angry,” says Vogler, who notes that he will be sharing that hotel room with his wife. He says the comments would not affect whether or not he votes for Trump, but calls the idea “juvenile” and “ridiculous.” “That’s not how we act in America, and in our neighborhoods, that’s not how you treat people,” he adds.

Trump has been outmaneuvered in the delegate race in multiple states over the past month, especially by the Cruz campaign, which has proven adept at getting its preferred people delegate spots at the convention. In Pennsylvania, both the Cruz and the Kasich campaigns say that they are actively wooing the potential delegates in the state but that it is happening quietly.

Trump has been outmaneuvered in the delegate race in multiple states over the past month, especially by the Cruz campaign.

Saul Anuzis, who is helping to run the delegate effort for the Cruz campaign, says: “We identified candidates who are Cruz-friendly or Cruz supporters and we will be helping them in various different ways, and then obviously we’re looking for other candidates that might be Cruz-sympathetic,” based on information about their friends or affiliations. But a lot of the wooing, he says, will happen after April 26, when the campaign knows which of those people will actually be delegates. Pennsylvania voters, suggests Anuzis, are attracted to the fact that delegate candidates “are running to get elected in their own right, which gives them a tremendous amount of independence.” For that reason, campaigns don’t necessarily run slates of candidates.

Gessa, who entered the delegate-election process as a committed Cruz supporter, is an illustration of some of what the Cruz campaign has been doing. She was initially contacted by someone in the Cruz campaign about her interest in becoming more involved. Then, at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference last month, that person invited her to meet Cruz personally. She also met with the Pennsylvania campaign director, she says. After the meeting with Cruz, she signed a pledge committing to back him. Cruz’s state director, Lowman Henry, is the former president of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, which organizes the conference — giving Cruz an entrée to a network of conservatives in the state.

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The Kasich campaign hopes Pennsylvania will be a strong state for him. Kasich, who was born in western Pennsylvania and grew up there, has accumulated support from many former Pennsylvania elected officials, including former governor Tom Ridge.

“A lot of the delegates are going to be influenced by who wins the congressional district in which they’re running and who won the state. And so you can have far more substantive conversations with them after the 26th of April,” says former Pennsylvania representative Bob Walker, Kasich’s honorary state chair for Pennsylvania. “But right now part of it is trying to figure out who it is that initially is leaning toward Governor Kasich.”

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Former state senator (and former Pennsylvania GOP chairman) Earl Baker, who is a co-chair for Kasich’s Pennsylvania campaign, says much of the outreach thus far has been a “quiet, personal process,” trying to reach out to delegates through people with whom they have a relationship.

They’re not reaching out to every possible delegate, though. “There are only 24 hours in a day,” says Kasich regional political director Scott Blake. “I’d rather not spend it with someone who has no intention of supporting Kasich.”

#related#The hope is that delegates who arrive at the convention uncommitted will feel responsible for picking a candidate who can win a general election in Pennsylvania, an important swing state.

“Our argument is as follows: Kasich is the only candidate who beats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Pennsylvania. And he is a successful governor of a neighboring state with an economy very similar to ours. He understands a state that needs to re-energize its manufacturing, that has a growing energy industry,” says Baker.

But the Kasich campaign also hopes to win the 17 bound delegates. “We’d like to be the state that proves the point that there’s a state that he can win other than Ohio,” Baker says.

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