Ted Cruz declared victory after the North Dakota Republican convention, saying he won a vast majority of the delegates. Since the state’s representatives to the Republican National Convention in July are not bound to vote for any one candidate, however, this may prove a hollow win. It might suggest, however, that Cruz has a better organization and a better ability to propel his own supporters to the convention in July, a strength that will prove crucial in a contested convention.
The Texas senator may have benefitted from being the only candidate who actually attended the convention, as both frontrunner Donald Trump and John Kasich were campaigning in Wisconsin all weekend, preparing for the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday. Ben Carson campaigned for Trump in North Dakota, while former New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey represented Kasich.
Of the 25 delegates chosen at the North Dakota convention, Cruz and his supporters counted 18 as his preferred candidates. Cruz declared victory in a statement Sunday evening:
I’m thrilled to have the vote of confidence of Republican voters in North Dakota who delivered such a resounding victory today. As I met them over the weekend, North Dakota Republicans recognized that I am the only candidate who can move this country forward by protecting freedom and liberty. Whether we defeat Donald Trump before the convention or at it, I’m energized to have the support of the vast majority of North Dakota delegates.
One-hundred five people ran to be delegates in the North Dakota convention, and the state party ranked 74 of them as suggested candidates.
— Tom LoBianco (@tomlobianco) April 3, 2016
Cruz’s campaign released its own preferred list of 24 candidates for the GOP national convention.
When the 2,000 attendees to the North Dakota convention voted, 18 of the 25 selected were on Cruz’s list. Only 11 of Cruz’s picks had been ranked in the top 25 on the original list from the state party, giving him a 7 delegate pick-up.
Next Page: Cruz can’t be sure they’ll vote for him — here’s why.
Nevertheless, these delegates were not bound to any candidate, even on the first ballot, at July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. The state convention voted against a measure which would have forced the selected delegates to declare which candidate they would vote for, 748 to 611. Even if the measure had passed, it would have had no legal bearing.
Not all of these 18 on Cruz’s list said the Texas senator was their first choice. There is a lot of wiggle-room on the list, according to Politico‘s Shane Goldmacher.
One of these picks, Dick Dever, said, “Of the three, I like John Kasich the best.” Another one of the Texas senator’s alleged backers, Jim Poolman, said he was only “leaning Cruz.” Daniel Traynor, another delegate on Cruz’s list, was more adamantly opposed to Trump than supportive of Cruz. Traynor had previously backed Marco Rubio and said he preferred Kasich, but currently had his eye on Cruz as the best alternative to Trump.
One delegate not on Cruz’s list, Kelly Schmidt, nevertheless said she was leaning toward the Texas senator.
Even if the victory for Cruz was not as clear-cut as it seemed, North Dakota’s convention was a clear loss for The Donald. Trump’s campaign celebrated the state party’s list, which it claimed had a number of allies and persuadable voters, but many of these lost out to the candidates on Cruz’s list.
“This is a catastrophic outcome for the Trump campaign in North Dakota,” Jason Miller, a senior Cruz adviser, told Politico. “Just when you thought the Donald’s horrible, very bad, no good week couldn’t get any worse, it just did.”
Naturally, the Trump campaign didn’t exactly see it that way. “We came in with zero expectations. We’re encouraged by the results,” said Brian Jack, a Trump delegate strategist.” He noted that “many of those elected from [Cruz’s] ‘list’ are firmly undecided or support other candidates.” Perhaps a bit too optimistically, Jack declared, “We’re confident that we will receive strong support from this delegation.”
The only state party leader to have endorsed Trump, Representative Kevin Cramer, worked behind the scenes to push those loyal to The Donald. Cramer declined to seek a spot to the Republican National Convention himself, saying he would prefer to give others a chance.