This is our new weekly politics newsletter, “Conventional Wisdom,” covering the wild and wacky world of delegate harvesting. (Sign up here.)
We’ll get to our weekly sorta-quick-and-moderately-dirty roundup of the delegate hot haps throughout the states in a moment, but first a note for those who spent their Sundays healthily away from the internet and the 2016 presidential race: John Kasich and Ted Cruz have formed an unholy alliance.
Maine: Usually prized most for its blueberries and brisk New England way of summering, Maine’s delegates were this weekend’s belle of the ball. Like an overeager suitor, Cruz filled most of the state’s dance card. His campaign got 19 of the 20 up-for-grabs delegate slots at the convention — Maine has 23 delegates total, but three spots are reserved for party officials. Gov. Paul LePage, a vocal Trump supporter, filled the one non-Cruz delegate slot and did not go gentle, calling foul and saying that the Cruz team “stabbed us in the back, reneged on the unity slate and betrayed the people of Maine.” (On the first ballot at the GOP convention, 12 Maine delegates are pledged to Cruz, nine to Trump and two to Kasich. After that, they’re free birds.)
Kentucky: State Republican Party leaders orchestrated it so that nobody was getting lucky in Kentucky without their say-so – 25 delegates were picked at the state convention this weekend. (Kentucky has 46 delegates overall who are bound proportionately on a first ballot based on the state’s March caucus results.) Attendees this weekend were required to approve a list of delegate names on an up-or-down vote, names that were largely party insider favorites. The party wouldn’t release the delegate slate until just before the vote, a move that left many with the phrase “back-room deal” on the tips of their tongues. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul were among the chosen delegates, and neither would seem particularly inclined towards Trump, though God knows stranger things have happened in the past nine months.
Utah: It was a predictable Cruz landslide at the weekend’s state convention in Utah (he won the state’s caucuses in March). He emerged with 36 available delegate slots out of 37.
West Virginia: There’s been some confusion out there in the delegate internet ether lately about whether West Virginia’s three already-named delegates from the Republican Party leadership are bound or unbound — delegate math is wild and wonderful everywhere, but particularly in West Virginia. To catch up the people who have been reading the normal internet and not the delegate internet, the state will send 34 delegates to Cleveland, with 22 of them directly selected by the voters on a statewide ballot come May 10, nine selected separately from the state’s three congressional districts (three from each), and then these three party leaders who have already been named: GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas, National Committeeman Kris Warner and National Committeewoman Melody Potter.
My colleague Aaron Bycoffe did a little digging, and got two different answers: Lindsay Walters, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said they will be bound to the statewide winner, while Jordan Burgess, executive director of the state GOP, said the three delegates are unbound and can vote for whomever they want.
So who’s right? The rules appear to be on the side of the RNC. A memo from the RNC, dated Jan. 29, says: “In states that select and bind their at-large delegates directly on a primary ballot, the RNC members will be bound to the candidate receiving the most votes in the state’s presidential primary.”
But Burgess said that rule doesn’t apply to West Virginia, where delegates are listed directly on the ballot, along with the presidential candidate or “uncommitted” if they are … uncommitted. Burgess, citing state law, said the presidential candidate listed for each delegate is simply a “preference,” not a promise, and can be changed at any time. In fact, he says, none of West Virginia’s delegates are bound.
Josh Putnam, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, says the RNC would interpret a “filing commitment” — as in West Virginia — as binding the delegates who have listed a preference, at least for the first ballot. And if that’s the case, the three state GOP officials would have to vote for the winner of West Virginia’s primary.
We may have to wait for the convention to see what happens with the state’s delegates. If all of them vote for their “preferred” candidate (and if the three already-named delegates vote for the statewide winner, as two have them have said publicly they will), this discussion will be moot. But if any of them attempt to vote otherwise, well, things could get interesting.