Republican delegates from Pennsylvania may play a critical role in the GOP convention. As the April 26 primary approaches, presidential candidates are scrambling to identify supporters among those running for convention delegate and tell voters they must pull those levers to help their cause. It’s not easy.
If you haven’t heard yet, the rules for Republican delegate selection in Pennsylvania are, well, a little peculiar. A candidate could win the popular vote by 20 points in the primary, then find an opponent getting most of the delegates.
Winning the popular vote in the Pennsylvania primary gets a candidate just 17 of the state’s 71 delegates. The other 54 will be elected directly by voters, three from each congressional district.
According to party rules, all 54 elected delegates will go to the convention as officially uncommitted, though some may be privately committed to a particular campaign.
But nothing on the ballot will tell you whether a given candidate for delegate favors Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich — or no one.
So how does anybody know? We asked, and so did some other news organizations.
Polling the chosen fewWe called or emailed nearly all of the 162 candidates for those 54 delegate slots and asked if they favor a particular candidate, if they were recruited to run by a particular campaign, and if they know how they plan to vote on the first ballot.
Of our responses, 25 percent said they planned to vote for Trump; 14 percent said Cruz; and only 1 percent said Kasich.
Twenty percent said they would go uncommitted. But the majority, 40 percent, said they plan to vote on the first ballot for the winner of the popular vote in their congressional district.
The Trump and Cruz campaigns are beginning to make public their recommendations for candidates for delegate. On Wednesday, the Cruz campaign released a list of 28 names.
“The slate is those who are committed to Ted Cruz who gave us permission to put their names out,” said Lowman Henry, state chairman of the Pennsylvania Cruz campaign.
“Others say they’re for Ted, but want to see the vote in their congressional districts,” Henry said. “So, hopefully, we’ll win those districts and get those delegates.”
The Trump campaign is still putting its final list together. You can find a running total at the website of Gabriel Keller, a candidate in the 12th Congressional District.
It gets trickyThe Trump and Cruz campaigns will support their delegate slates as best they can, with emails, social media, and workers at the polling places.
It’s interesting that some on the Trump slate are not Trump supporters, per se, but party regulars who’ve publicly committed to supporting the winner of the popular vote in their congressional district.
One is Ash Khare, a veteran member of the Republican state committee in the 5th Congressional District in central and western Pennsylvania.
“It’s the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi,” Khare told me. “It has parts of 16 counties.”
Khare is on the Trump-recommended delegate slate, even though he refused to commit to any candidate.
“They called me, and I said, ‘I am not committing to Trump. I am committing to whoever wins the 5th Congressional District,'” Khare said. “And if that is Trump, I’ll vote for Trump.”
Khare told me that he was also contacted by the Cruz campaign when Cruz was planning a visit to Erie this week. He was offered a 10-minute private meeting with the candidate.
“I said, ‘Listen, I can’t do that. I made a promise to the voters of my district,'” Khare said.
What will happen?My guess is the mostly likely winners among the 162 candidates for delegate April 26 will be Republican Party regulars who are better-known, consistent primary voters and who will have some field organization working for them on Election Day.
And a lot of them will follow the popular vote in their districts, which means the winner of the state popular vote should also do well in the delegate competition.
But you never know.
Bob Thomas, a party veteran from Franklin County, said he’s not committing to any course of action now. The stakes are high in this decision, he told me, and he wants to get it right.
“By the time we get to Cleveland, it’s three months from now, and 10 weeks after the Pennsylvania primary,” Thomas said. “There’s going to be a lot more information, and a delegate has to discern what is right.”
“It’s almost like a military decision, and you’ve got to consider the latest intelligence,” he said. “You can’t make your decision three months in advance.”
“I would consider who wins the popular vote in my congressional district,” Thomas said, “but it’s not a slam dunk. Say the winner gets 35 percent. That’s hardly a mandate.”
So, there you go. Plenty of intrigue yet to come.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has also surveyed candidates to see what they say about their plans for the first ballot. They got responses from 129, and their findings are consistent with ours. If you want to look at specific names in your congressional district, the Tribune Review has them on its website.
Again, you can find the running list of recommended Trump delegates on the website of Gabriel Keller, a candidate in the 12th Congressional District.
The recommended Cruz Delegates are listed below (One, Philip Bear, contacted us to clarify that he’ll vote for Cruz on the first ballot, and on subsequent ballots will vote based on his assessment of candidates’ electability):