On March 1, Ted Cruz decisively won the GOP presidential primary in his home state by 17 points, collecting more than two-thirds of the delegates up for grabs in Texas. More than a month later, he has an opportunity make that victory even sweeter.
As it has done in many other states, Cruz's campaign is working behind the scenes to ensure that every delegate Texas sends to the Republican National Convention is supportive — even those who must initially back frontrunner Donald Trump. It's a painstaking process that usually draws little attention but is taking on a new significance as the GOP field gears up for a contested convention.
"At this point, the focus has to be on electing pro-Cruz delegates," said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based Republican strategist. "Not only the delegates he’s allotted through the primary vote, but I expect them to run people to be Trump delegates and Rubio delegates who are Cruz supporters.”
The process will take center stage May 12 through 14 in Dallas, when the Republican Party of Texas holds its convention to elect the 155 delegates it will send to July's Republican National Convention. Based on the results of the March 1 primary, Cruz is entitled to 104 of those delegates, Trump 48 and former candidate Marco Rubio three.
But they're obligated to vote that way only on the first two ballots. In the event of a contested convention, for which both candidates are increasingly preparing, all of Texas' delegates would be unbound from their candidate, effectively becoming free agents, on the third ballot. In other words, Trump's 48 delegates and Rubio's three would be free to throw their support to Cruz at that point — if they are so inclined. Cruz's campaign is trying to make sure they are.
His backers are confident the 51 non-Cruz delegate slots will be filled with enough loyalists that most of them will ultimately vote for the Texas senator.
"The vast majority, I believe, will switch to Ted as soon as they can switch," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Cruz's campaign in Texas.
Salting the delegation as heavily as possible with Cruz supporters might also help if there are votes on the convention's rules that might give one candidate an upper hand.
The delegate selection process began in earnest on March 19, when more than 10,000 delegates to the state convention were elected at the county and state Senate district levels. That gave campaigns a massive pool of potential delegates to Cleveland to start vetting, a task that includes consultation with local party leaders and the delegates themselves. All three remaining campaigns have requested and received the list of delegates to Dallas, according to the Texas GOP.
One of the first steps comes later this week, when Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler, who is neutral in the race, is expected to appoint a chair of the National Nomination Committee. The panel, which will comprise Mechler and 36 other members representing each of Texas' congressional districts, will meet in Dallas to select 44 of the state's at-large delegates to the national convention.
It is not just Trump whose delegates the Cruz campaign is eying in Texas. Although he is no longer in the race, Rubio has asked the Texas GOP to keep his three delegates bound on the first ballot, meaning they are free to vote for whomever they want on the second ballot. That effectively makes them the most valuable delegates from Texas because they will be the first delegates to become free agents.
"It totally depends on who is seated, but I would feel confident that during the delegation selection process, those people would have Cruz as their second choice," said state Rep. James Frank of Wichita Falls, a former co-chair of Rubio's campaign in Texas who now supports Cruz.
Trump's campaign in Texas did not respond to a request for comment on its efforts regarding the delegate selection process. But some of his supporters in the Lone Star State dismissed the idea that if they won a trip to Cleveland, they could be persuaded to ultimately support Cruz.
"I will most definitely be 100 percent with Mr. Trump all the way," said Tania Vojvodic, a delegate to the state convention who plans to run for a national slot. "There’s no convincing me to vote for Mr. Cruz."
Yet even as they swear allegiance to Trump, some of his backers in Texas acknowledge the billionaire is at a disadvantage in a delegate selection process that rewards superior organization. Among them: Eileen Townsend, a longtime GOP activist and delegate to Dallas.
"The problem with Trump supporters is they have no idea how the political process works, so that’s why they’re being outsmarted," said Townsend, a real estate agent from Missouri City.
Cruz's supporters in Texas say the process is not that complicated: Competent campaigns have to win popular support in the primary then demonstrate they can make the victory count in the delegate selection process. Randall Dunning, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee who supports Cruz, likened it to creating empty spaces in a crate for eggs — and the delegate selection process actually filling the spaces.
Organized campaigns, he said, will "put the eggs in the crate."