North Dakota Republicans selected 25 national delegates Sunday, with results that looked good for Ted Cruz, but were far from certain because each delegate will be a free agent at the national convention.
The North Dakota delegates include a handful of Republicans who have said they will vote for Cruz. But just as many delegates were mum about their plans when questioned over the weekend.
Party leaders make up many of the slots, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple, First Lady Betsy Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and top party donors.
The results came after a weekend of hard sells by Cruz and his GOP rivals, mogul Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Former candidate Ben Carson rallied the more than 1,600 state delegates for Trump Sunday morning, with a speech focused heavily on faith and his efforts to teach Trump religion and spirituality. But behind the scenes he lobbied North Dakota Republican brass one-on-one.
Ahead of Sunday’s speech, he pulled North Dakota Republican Party convention committeeman Curly Haugland into a private meeting. Carson also met privately with former Gov. Ed Schafer.
“We had an opportunity to really explain things, to explain rationale for doing things,” Carson told CNN backstage at the Scheels Arena. “I said the proof will be in the pudding we’ll see how it all comes out.”
As the delegates packed into this Fargo hockey arena for the final day of their state convention, the Trump, Cruz and Kasich campaigns worked furiously to identify supporters. Republicans were scheduled to vote for 25 national delegates from a list of 74 nominated delegates.
But the state’s unique delegate selection process — which lets delegates vote for whichever candidate they prefer at the national convention — led to much battling between the campaigns.
North Dakota’s lone congressman, Rep. Kevin Cramer, endorsed Trump Sunday, shortly before North Dakota Republicans began selecting the delegates to the national convention.
“It’s something I’d been processing for a long time and it really culminated with my online straw poll where I really did want to give voice to the people who can’t be here,” Cramer said.
Because the delegates will be unbound, they are not formally committed to any campaign. But that didn’t stop the campaigns from working to set expectations so they could claim victory.
Trump adviser Barry Bennett told CNN that “a plurality” on the list of 25 preferred were leaning toward Trump after a strong lobbying effort from Cramer, who Bennett called the Trump operation’s “Sherpa” over the course of the hectic weekend.
“We’ll be drinking champagne here all day,” Bennett said, if the slate of 25 delegates picked by party leaders earlier this weekend passes in the convention.
Still, as is the case on the ground states around the country, Cruz’s campaign has had a strong presence in and around the convention. Cruz himself flew in to speak on Saturday, and Carly Fiorina, the former presidential candidate and top Cruz surrogate, has been meeting publicly and privately with potential delegates since Friday.
As many as 10 of the delegates on the preferred list have indicated some or solid public support for Cruz.
Kasich’s delegate wranglers were equally optimistic Saturday after reviewing the list of party picks, saying they saw at least 20 on their who could be swayed to their side.