Is it really that difficult to find three solid supporters for your candidate in an entire Congressional district?
If you’re the Donald Trump campaign, the answer is yes.
A clear contrast developed early between the Ted Cruz and Trump delegate operations at Iowa Republicans’ 3rd District convention in Creston on Saturday. Matt Schultz, a key Cruz endorser and on the campaign’s official slate of delegates, greeted attendees as they entered the building and had promotional materials on hand. Two of the three delegates on Trump’s initial official slate wouldn’t even commit to support Trump.
Republicans from the district that covers Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Southwest Iowa convened to elect three delegates to the national convention. Iowa’s Republican delegates are bound on the first ballot to what each candidate earned on caucus night. But they can choose whomever on subsequent ballots. So which people are selected as those delegates make a big difference if Trump does not get to 1,237 delegates.
Cruz’s effort ran circles around the competition. The campaign and volunteers sent out texts, calls and emails to supporters from the caucus to show up at the district convention. Part of the success was laid on caucus night, when many Cruz supporters stayed late to fill delegate spots, even for those won by Trump and others. The same occurred at county conventions last month.
The Cruz campaign distributed a professionally-printed slate of candidates, championing Schultz, State Senator Jake Chapman and Wes Enos for national delegate. Schultz was the state chair of Cruz’s Iowa Caucus efforts and let the Cruz campaign know he was interested in running for national delegate. He then recruited Chapman to run as well. The Cruz campaign called to vet Enos, but he wasn’t sure that he’d be one of the three endorsed candidates until he arrived at the convention.
Schultz yard signs lined the walkway into the meeting. Chapman sent out a mailer for his candidacy to delegates prior to the convention.
Trump’s delegate strategy was beset by incompetence and confusion. Their initial list of preferred delegates were comprised of Justin Luettjohan, Mary Whisenand and State Senator Julian Garrett. Only Luettjohan told Starting Line that he was solidly with Trump and would support him on the second ballot and beyond. He backed Ben Carson in the caucus. Garrett revealed that he had caucused for Trump (he had not previously endorsed publicly), but he said he was still undecided on whether he’d back Trump or Cruz on a second ballot.
Whisenand’s inclusion on the Trump list was peculiar. She backed Chris Christie in the caucus and is a longtime party activist that seemed unlikely to ever support Trump. She told everyone that asked her beforehand that she was undecided and wouldn’t commit to any candidate at this stage. She wasn’t even aware that she would be on the Trump slate until she got to the convention. The Trump leaders struck her name from the list late in the morning, replacing it with State Senator Brad Zaun, who endorsed Trump in the caucus.
But Zaun didn’t even explicitly commit to backing Trump on a second ballot. In his speech to the convention, Zaun simply said he’d back whoever was “right” at the national convention and not the establishment’s choice.
The Trump slate for the nominating committee had similar issues. Stephanie Crowley, who has helped with John Kasich’s campaign, was who the Trump leaders suggested their supporters vote for on the nominating committee. She too was surprised to see her name on their sheet. The other Trump candidate, Ryan Frederick (it’s unclear if he supports Trump) didn’t even run for the committee, and was defeated in his reelection to the state central committee. Their inclusion on the Trump list may actually have hurt them at this Cruz-heavy convention.
Cruz’s two choices for the nominating committee garnered twice as many votes as a Trump supporter and Crowley. Only one won, however, as well-known activist Kevin Hall nabbed the other seat.
John Kasich’s supporters had a hand-written list of a few people to support, but did not appear to have any impact on the proceedings. State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa, Kasich’s top endorser from Iowa, chaired most of the convention and did decently in her campaign for national delegate, coming in 5th on the first ballot.
It was also unclear whether the Trump leaders disseminated their slate to their supporters in the room other than handing it out from their table in the back. Trump let go most of his professional staffers from the Iowa Caucus effort, leaving former reality show contestant Tana Goertz to head up the delegate operation. Many Republican insiders at the convention privately criticized the Trump campaign’s efforts in conversations with Starting Line.
The trio for Cruz handily won their election for national delegate. Schultz and Chapman won on the first ballot (see photo below). Enos got in as the third Cruz delegate on the fourth ballot. Luettjohan, the only person on the official Trump slate that was actually solidly with Trump, didn’t even make it into the top 10 from the first ballot (which makes it seem like the Trump leaders didn’t properly inform their supporters of who to back).
According to tweets from reporters at the other three district conventions around the state, the story played out much the same way there as well. Cruz backers swept 11 of the 12 delegates, though they had a more difficult time in the 2nd District.
Throughout the day, many speakers and candidates stressed the need to nominate at the national convention one of the three candidates currently in the race. They warned against a grassroots revolt if someone became the nominee who was defeated in the primary or a person who hadn’t faced the scrutiny of the voters at all. Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann told the crowd he was strongly opposed to nominating anyone other than the current three.
Even with a useful digital voting device for the attendees, the proceedings still stretched late into the day. People started arriving around 8:30 AM; the national delegates were not chosen until 6:00 PM. But the crowd remained patient and cordial, and the party organizers ran a relatively smooth convention.
The remaining delegates from Iowa will be decided on May 21st at the Iowa Republican state convention. Unless the Trump campaign suddenly gets its effort back up to speed, it’s likely Cruz will sweep those delegates as well.
At the end of the day, the same weak ground game that doomed Trump to a second place finish in the Iowa Caucus caused him to lose what delegates he did win here, at least if the national convention goes to a second ballot. If it gets to that, Iowa will likely give the vast majority – if not all – of their votes to Ted Cruz.
by Pat Rynard