GOP leaders choose prior to May 3 primary
(Indy Star) – Ohio Gov. John Kasich claimed victory Monday in a behind-the-scenes battle for Indiana’s delegates, prompting Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to cry foul.
Kasich’s campaign said it has secured the support of a majority of Indiana’s 57 delegates to the Republican National Convention, where their personal preference might ultimately decide the party’s presidential nominee.
“We feel very good about the number of delegates who will support Governor Kasich on a second ballot,” said Pete Seat, a consultant to Kasich’s Indiana campaign. “Electability is an extremely important part of the nomination for the Indiana delegation. The whole point of this is to win the White House. Governor Kasich has the best shot of doing that.”
Trump’s campaign didn’t dispute the amount of support Kasich has among Indiana’s delegates but criticized Indiana’s delegate selection process.
“It shows how flawed the process might be if what they’re saying is true, and that the process can be easily manipulated, which is what it looks like they and others are trying to do,” said Tony Samuel, vice chairman for Trump’s Indiana campaign. “The reason it could be flawed and manipulated in Indiana is because the delegate selection has occurred before the primary voters have spoken. So if they are already being influenced, or came into the process with their choice in mind, knowing what they would do on a second ballot, then they’re not listening to or representing the voters.”
It’s not the first time the Trump campaign has criticized the GOP nominating process. After failing to win delegates in Colorado, Trump railed against the system.
“It’s a rigged system. It’s a crooked system. It’s 100 percent crooked,” he said. “It’s a corrupt and crooked system.”
Indiana’s delegates to the national convention have traditionally been selected during the party’s state convention in June, after the state’s May primary. But because the Republican National Committee moved up the date for the national convention, Indiana’s GOP leaders said it was necessary for the party at the state and congressional district levels to choose delegates prior to the May 3 primary.
Indiana Republican Chairman Jeff Cardwell defended Indiana’s process.
“As far as knowing who the delegates prefer, I have no idea,” he said. “I never asked one delegate who they were for or against.”
Although Indiana’s primary is still two weeks away, campaigns have been privately jockeying for support among delegates, who were selected last week and could play a key role in selecting the GOP nominee at the party’s national convention this summer in Cleveland.
Most delegates — including those from Indiana — are bound to vote for the candidate who wins the nominating contest in their state or congressional district on the first ballot at the convention. But after that, delegates from Indiana and many other states are free to vote for whomever they want.
IndyStar attempted to survey all 57 delegates. Many gave guarded responses, so the results were inconclusive. But Kasich’s claim seems plausible, given the number of people who expressed their support for him and those who would likely be ideologically aligned with him.
Mike McDaniel, a former Indiana Republican Party chairman, said he is leaning toward Kasich “because he comes the closest to Mitch Daniels,” a popular former Indiana governor.
Craig Dunn, chairman of the Howard County Republican Party, said he is supporting Kasich because “he has been the consistent adult in the room.”
“We’re running out of old white men. We have to regenerate our party and grow our party by expanding the scope and breadth of our party,” he said. “I think it has been a calculated, thoughtful process by people who are running Trump’s campaign that they appeal to the darker nature of people. … We’re driving people away as opposed to bringing people in.”
Kyle Babcock, another Kasich supporter, said he’s looking for the person who can beat the Democratic nominee in the fall.
“Donald Trump talks about polls, polls, polls. That’s been the theme of his campaign. Using that methodology, I’m looking at polls, and that leads me to believe at this point that Donald Trump can’t beat Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Trump supporters were harder to find. Of the 57 delegates, only two said they supported Trump over other candidates. One of them is Rex Early,Trump’s Indiana campaign chairman and a former Indiana Republican Party chairman. The other is Bill Springer, a longtime Sullivan County GOP chairman.
“It looks like the big money people up in Indianapolis decide and the rest of us are supposed to all fall in line. So yeah, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it no more either,” Springer said.
Still, he said he’ll support whoever wins Indiana’s 8th Congressional District.
“When you are elected as a delegate, you are supposed to represent the people that elect you, it’s not your own personal little preference,” he said. “I am going to support whoever carries the 8th District, be it one ballot or a thousand ballots.”
The lack of support from Indiana’s delegation makes it all the more important for Trump to win big in the state’s primary. Indiana and California are widely viewed as the two remaining toss-up states for Trump if he is going to win the 1,237 bound delegates needed to lock up the nomination before the convention.
Otherwise, the billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star will have to win a majority of delegates at a contested national convention in July — a prospect he will want to avoid if Indiana’s delegation is any indication.
Samuel, who applied to be a delegate but was not selected, said the Indiana primary is “very important to the Trump campaign. They are putting significant resources here, and there will be significant time spent here by Mr. Trump.”
Trump will visit Indianapolis on Wednesday for a rally at the State Fairgrounds. The rally will begin at 3 p.m. at the Elements Financial Blue Ribbon Pavilion. Doors will open at noon.
As a neighboring governor, Kasich is better known in Indiana than in many other states, and he is fond of drawing comparisons to Daniels, who is known for focusing on fiscal issues rather than hot-button social topics.
But so far, Kasich has won only the primary election in his home state of Ohio. There’s no indication he will perform much differently in Indiana’s primary, though there’s been no recent public polling conducted in the state.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the third candidate on the GOP side, is also campaigning hard in Indiana, where his evangelical Christian roots could appeal to an important part of the state’s Republican base. He will make his first campaign stop in Indiana at the state party’s Spring Dinner on Thursday.
Cruz volunteer Curt Smith, head of the socially conservative Indiana Family Institute and a delegate to the national convention, said he expects Indiana to play a deciding role in whether Trump will secure enough delegates to win the nomination outright.
“My sense is Indiana is critical to answering that question,” Smith said. “I think that Trump does not stand a very good chance. I think Senator Cruz stands a good chance to win against the presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.”
All three candidates could walk away with a share of Indiana’s delegates. Thirty are awarded based on how the state as a whole votes in the primary, but the other 27 are divvied up to the top vote-getters in each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts.
While many of those delegates told IndyStar they hadn’t decided whom they would support, most said they would make their decision based on one main factor: Who has the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee and winning back the White House?
Under that criterion, Kasich fares well. Unlike Trump, he consistently beats Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in head-to-head polls.
Trump is sensitive to that argument.
“Kasich only looks OK in polls against Hillary because nobody views him as a threat and therefore have placed ZERO negative ads against him,” Trump tweeted Monday.