CASPER, Wyoming (CNN) — Ted Cruz is visiting the Wyoming state GOP convention Saturday in hopes of wrapping up a near-sweep of delegates here.
But his top opponent for the 14 delegates up for grabs isn’t Donald Trump or John Kasich, it’s a group of Wyoming Republicans pushing for a plan to send a slate of unpledged delegates to Cleveland. Their hope is to earn the state more influence on the national stage as the three remaining presidential candidates scramble for delegates.
The expectation, however, is that Cruz will once again demonstrate how his campaign has won over party insiders to make things more difficult for Trump to capture the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination.
Much like Colorado last weekend and North Dakota the weekend before that, the delegates in play are free agents, up for grabs either through candidate oath forms signed now or intensive lobbying leading up to the convention.
Trump is already crying foul, saying states like Wyoming and Colorado show the system isn’t fair. Trump argued on “Fox and Friends” Saturday morning that he’s long “understood” the system but didn’t want waste time and money trying to “wine and dine” delegates.
“I don’t want to waste millions of dollars going out to Wyoming many months before to wine and dine and to essentially pay off all these people because a lot of it’s a pay-off,” he said. “You understand that, they treat ’em, they take ’em to dinner, they get ’em hotels. I mean the whole thing’s a big pay-off, has nothing to do with democracy.”
Here’s what you need to know about Wyoming:
Cruz swept Colorado last weekend with a strong ground game that dominated the district battles there. He capped it with an appearance in-person to rally his supporters there. He did something similar in North Dakota, and he’s scheduled to drop by the Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Center on Saturday.
Like at other party conventions, Cruz’s campaign has been distributing a delegate slate. In this case, the slate is made up of 14 delegates who have signed pledges to the Texas senator’s campaign to stick with it in Cleveland.
Wyoming’s delegate process favors the organized. Twelve delegates were already awarded at county meetings last month — and nine of them are to Cruz backers, with one Trump, one Rubio and one uncommitted. An additional three delegates are party officials.
Cruz visited the state last summer and his campaign has been active this year looking for delegates, Republicans here said. But Trump’s campaign hasn’t been as active. “You come in a week before the convention and it won’t be as effective,” said Tim Stubson, a U.S. congressional candidate.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running Cruz’s national delegate operation told CNN’s Gloria Borger that the campaign’s advantage is on the ground. “We were built as a grassroots campaign,” said Cuccinelli. “Neither Trump or Kasich have given any thought about this kind of a grassroots effort. And we started on March 23, the day Cruz announced.”
A big win Saturday could mean all but a couple votes from the Equality State are in Cruz’s hands.
Trump cedes the fight
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Trump supporter, canceled her scheduled appearance, taking the air out of the balloon for a possible Trump upset here.
Trump’s campaign made “a conscious decision” not to go all-out here due to the process that emphasizes insider access and involvement, said Alan Cobb, senior adviser to Trump’s campaign.
Wyoming simply doesn’t fit well in his overall strategy because of the emphasis on GOP regulars, he said.
“We know how to read. We read the rules. The rules don’t favor us,” Cobb said, later adding, “the Allies didn’t invade every Japanese island. We skipped some to get to the prize.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is flying in to speak on Kasich’s behalf. And, unlike in North Dakota, he’s being given a speaking slot before the voting on national delegates begins.
Kasich’s campaign is also happy to raise the bar for their Texas rival.
“Anything less than a Cruz sweep is going to be a loss for them based on what they’ve said about their ground game,” said Zachary Moyle of the Kasich campaign.
State Sen. Ogden Driscoll has a plan: send a group from Wyoming to Cleveland who are unbound and therefore can get an audience from and influence with potential presidential nominees.
Wyoming is as red as they come, so the state’s voters and delegates are taken for granted every four years. The possible contested convention changes that, even if 29 is just a small percentage of the 1,237 votes needed to win the nomination.
“If you declare for a candidate, which I did for Romney last time around, you’re entitled to spend your money and fly to Florida and raise your hand and he never talks to you, his people never talk to you,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll’s “Wyoming First” slate includes such party regulars as Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who is not running for re-election, and former statehouse Speaker Colin Simpson.
“We intend to leverage it to put Wyoming issues in front of all three candidates,” Driscoll said, citing issues such Environmental Protection Agency regulations on mining and water and the Endangered Species Act.
Fair or unfair?
Trump is not a fan of these types of contests, something he’s made clear day after day this week, ever since he lost Colorado. First, he tweeted the system was “rigged,” then he took to the airwaves, using contests like this to knock the entire nominating process during a CNN town hall Tuesday night.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2016
“I know the rules very well, but I know it’s stacked against me by the establishment,” Trump told moderator Anderson Cooper.
In the wake of his condemnations of the Colorado process, party leaders there have been swarmed with threats — something the Trump campaign has formally denounced, but led Cruz to deride as the tactics of “union boss thugs.”
He pressed that point with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Friday, but Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus spent the week pushing back, defending his party’s process for picking its nominee.
“This is a very normal system that we’ve been using many for years,” Priebus told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday. “And by the way, if anyone wants to reform the system, they can do so on the Rules Committee, because every four years the rules committee get together and they write the rules for the nomination of our party. So that’s who writes the rules. It’s not the RNC that writes the rules to determine the system.”