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Cruz camp checks out state delegate hopefuls

by Frank E. Lockwood | April 9, 2016 at 2:12 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is vetting potential delegates and will endorse a slate of 28 Arkansans to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

State Rep. Bob Ballinger, state co-chairman of the Cruz campaign, said the campaign will complete the process and release its list of 14 delegate candidates and 14 alternate candidates before April 30, the day 12 of Arkansas' 40 delegates are elected.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's campaign is also preparing to endorse eight delegates and eight alternates. "We're referring to that as a 'preferred list,'" said state Sen. Bart Hester, Rubio's Arkansas chairman.

Trump supporters and party officials in Arkansas said they're unaware of any similar efforts in the state.

Two people who filed in February to be Donald Trump delegates say they've had no contact with the New York businessman's campaign.

"I don't know if I've been vetted or not," said Mississippi County Republican Party Chairman Dorothy Crockett. "I've never voted for anybody other than a Republican all my life."

Joel Pritchett, the White County Republican Party chairman, said Trump's organization hasn't called him, either, but he remains eager to serve. "I've been on the Trump campaign from the beginning," he said.

Trump's Oklahoma-based regional political director, Stephanie Milligan, declined to discuss how the campaign is preparing for the delegate votes scheduled to take place that day in Little Rock, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Fort Smith.

Party activists in the state's four congressional districts will meet in those locations, electing three delegates each.

Another 25 delegates will be picked at the Arkansas Republican state committee meeting May 14 in Hot Springs.

Overall, 15 of the 37 elected delegates and 15 of the alternates will be pledged to Trump on the first ballot. (One of the three party officials who are automatically delegates will be assigned to Trump, another to Cruz, and the other to Rubio.)

In some states, a presidential candidate gets to pick the delegates he has won. But in Arkansas, he can only make recommendations. Local Republicans make the final selection.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said the people who vote typically have deep Republican roots.

"They all pretty much know each other. It's a relatively small group of people," he said. "Generally people are going to vote for people they know over people they've never heard of."

Typically, the group that is chosen includes elected officials and longtime party activists.

The winners will head to a four-day convention, July 18-21.

Most years, the votes they cast in cavernous sports venues are simply ceremonial; the outcome is never in doubt. This time, however, each delegate could conceivably be crucial.

The first candidate to capture a majority of the 2,472 delegates gets the Republican presidential nomination.

Arkansas delegates are bound to the candidate they represent on the first ballot. After that, they're free to support anyone they choose.

For that reason, each candidate tries to elect supporters who won't waver or switch sides.

"From a political standpoint we want to make sure we have delegates that will stick with us with the first vote, the second vote and can't be bought off by somebody else trying to make a deal," said Ballinger, R-Hindsville. "One way to do that is to find those people who have already made sacrifices and commitments to be part of the Cruz team prior to the vote actually going down."

Rubio supporters also want delegates who are trustworthy and loyal. Although he suspended his campaign after losing his home state of Florida, Rubio has not released his delegates. Unless he frees them, they'll be required to vote for him on the first ballot.

Rubio's list will be shorter than Cruz's or Trump's and easier to vet. To begin with, there are fewer slots to fill because he won fewer delegates. In addition, most of the state's top elected officials have expressed interest in being one of his delegates.

"We had two U.S. senators, four congressmen and a governor that signed up for Rubio. If those guys decided they all wanted to be Rubio [delegates], I would imagine they get elected," Hester, R-Cave Springs, said. "I don't know any Republican looking to run against Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson on a ballot right now."

Some of those elected officials filed multiple times. U.S. Sens. Sen. John Boozman and Sen. Tom Cotton and 4th District U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman submitted three sets of paperwork, reserving the right to run for Rubio, Trump and Cruz.

None of the three has revealed which candidate he hopes to represent in Cleveland.

Generally, state and federal elected officials are hard to beat.

"They probably have almost 100 percent name ID and relationships within the party structure, so you would bet on those folks absolutely being elected," Griffin said.

Although there have been disputes over delegate selection in some states, Griffin said he doesn't expect any bedlam in Arkansas.

"We have rules. The party has rules and the Republicans who participate in the process respect those rules," Griffin said. "I suspect the election of the delegates will go quite smoothly and without a hitch, whoever's elected."

Pritchett, the White County chairman, said the competition will be fierce, but "they're good quality people."

Metro on 04/09/2016

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