COLORADO SPRINGS — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have plans to campaign in Colorado this weekend, but it’s possible one of them could technically win the state’s delegate count even before the GOP state convention here on April 9.
That’s because a series of under-the-radar elections will take place at congressional assemblies this week, events that haven’t made as many big headlines as the March 1 caucuses but could mean quite a lot when it comes to Colorado’s role in presidential politics.
This Thursday and Friday, Republicans at five of these congressional assemblies will select 21 out of the 37 delegates Colorado will send to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18. That means it’s possible one of the presidential candidates could win enough pledged delegates outright before the Colorado Republican Party’s April 9 state convention at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
The assembly system is how Colorado Republicans decide who gets to represent them at the Republican National Convention. Congressional assemblies are another step after the precinct caucuses that give loyal party members a chance to play an outsized role if they can persuade enough other rank-and-file Republicans in their own congressional districts to send them to the national stage.
One congressional assembly will be held Thursday in Aurora, and four more will take place Friday at the Doubletree hotel in Colorado Springs. If all the delegates selected, or a large majority, are pledged to a certain candidate, it’s possible that what happens at the state convention could be moot when it comes to the presidential race.
“The state convention gets all the press,” says Daniel Cole, the director of the El Paso County Republican Party. “But the congressional assemblies, taken as a whole, are more important.”
The 37 Republicans — as well as who they support for president or whether they’re unbound — who are chosen as Colorado’s delegates to the convention in Cleveland have increasingly become attractive targets for the presidential campaigns of the three GOP candidates left in the race.
So far it appears Ted Cruz is making a harder play for the delegates than Trump or Kasich. Candidates are looking to Colorado because the state’s 37 delegates could could potentially play a big role in Cleveland. They could help swing the Republican Party’s nomination if Trump doesn’t show up with the number of delegates needed to win and throws the national convention into a contested, chaotic affair.
Already, Cruz has shown a keen interest in Colorado’s potential delegates, and has even endorsed some. That’s paid off so far, as the Texas senator scored a big win here over the weekend when he ran the table at the first congressional assembly, held in the Denver area. The first six Republicans who won coveted delegate slots for Cleveland are pledged delegates for Cruz.
While Cruz has announced plans to attend the state convention on Saturday, his Colorado campaign, which is chaired by Colorado Congressman Ken Buck, has also clearly been organizing in the congressional assembly delegate contests.
Coloradans running for national GOP delegate are registered Republicans who were selected by their neighbors during the March 1 precinct caucuses. They’ve made it through their county conventions and are now trying for their final round at Republican assemblies held in their individual congressional districts. Others will run at the state convention on Saturday.
Because of its size and its heavily Republican makeup, El Paso County will send about 15 percent of the delegates to the state convention, which takes place at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
According to Cole, the Republicans in El Paso County are leaning toward Cruz. During the local party’s county assembly on March 26, officials took a straw poll. Out of 1,011 votes, Cruz got 71 percent, Trump got 18, and John Kasich got 11, Cole says.
“That’s a fair indication for the way El Paso County’s delegation is leaning,” he explains.
One Cruz-backing delegate hopeful in that county is Joel Crank, an 18-year-old high school student who says his family, friends and girlfriend could all attest to him being AWOL in recent days as he focuses on trying to win a shot at a ticket to Cleveland during his Friday congressional assembly. Joel is the son of Jeff Crank, who ran for Congress when Joel was 10 years old. Now, it’s the younger Crank who wants to help shape American politics. He’s running along with a slate of other Cruz supporters because he says the Texas senator is the most fiscally and socially conservative candidate in the race.
As for Trump, the billionaire businessman has made plans to be in Colorado this week, but whether he’ll show up to the state convention in Colorado Springs is so far up in the air. If Cruz wins enough delegates during the congressional assemblies before Saturday, Trump’s time might be better spent elsewhere. For his part, Kasich will dispatch a surrogate, former New Hampshire U.S. Sen. John Sunnunu, to Colorado rather than showing up himself.
The Colorado Independent reached out to a handful of delegate hopefuls who are pledged to Trump to see if there was any kind of organized effort among them like there has been for Cruz. The first, an El Paso County Trump supporter, said he likely wasn’t the best to talk to, saying, “I don’t know that much about the process.” Another, a lifelong Democrat from Ohio who says she switched parties after moving here last year to support Trump, said she wasn’t even sure if she was still in the running to become a delegate.
Kimberly Jajack, however, of Arapahoe, said she had met Trump at Eddie Murphy’s wedding in New York many years ago and had gotten an audience with the man, which left a lasting impression. She says she’s running as a pledged Trump delegate in Colorado because the Founding Fathers were businessmen and merchants and it’s time to get back to basics.
Jajack recently attended a congressional assembly over the weekend where she saw the organization Cruz had and noticed how delegates pledged to him were running as a slate. After seeing that, she says if she understood the process better she might have gone that route instead of trying her hand at winning a delegate slot at the state convention this Saturday.
When she filled out her form to run for delegate, she says she was told— not by anyone from the Trump campaign — that it didn’t matter whether she ran in her congressional assembly or at the state convention. Knowing what she knows now, she says, “I might have made a different decision.”
Pledged supporters of Kasich who are running for delegate will likely be a lonely bunch.
Walter Borneman of Larimar County is one of the handful of Kasich-pledged supporters running for a shot as a delegate in the 2nd Congressional District assembly on Friday, and he says he hasn’t been approached by anyone from the Kasich campaign yet. While his phone has started to ring with other Kasich-supporting delegates on the line in the past few days, he expected the whole process to be a bigger deal.
“I guess I’ve been a little surprised … that we’re getting up to the wire and there hasn’t been more,” he says.
Borneman says his pitch to Republicans at his assembly will be about Kasich’s experience as Ohio’s governor, his record and his electability.
“I have good reasons for supporting him but I don’t see a groundswell here in Colorado,” he says.
One of the Cruz-backing delegates recently chosen as an alternate to go to Cleveland, Carolyn Olson, won her own election as a delegate in part on a platform of opposing any candidate that’s not Cruz, Kasich or Trump being air-dropped into a contested convention and trying to snag the nomination.
But it’s also possible a slate of unpledged delegates in Colorado could run at these congressional assemblies and the state convention on a free-agent platform giving them more sway to chose a nominee at the convention if a surprise candidate is drafted to run during a chaotic weekend in Cleveland.
Kyle Kohli, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, put the pre-state-convention stakes this week into perspective.
“Given the majority of Colorado’s 37 delegates will be determined before the state convention, it’s critical for each presidential candidate to perform as well as possible in the remaining congressional assemblies.”
[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore vie Creative Commons in Flickr]