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Trump, Cruz Camps To Battle For Delegates At State GOP Convention

On Saturday the Arizona Republican Party will hold its state convention in Mesa to elect national delegates to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. The Donald Trump and Ted Cruz campaigns will be competing to get their slates of delegate candidates chosen.

Because of the possibility of a contested convention, the selection of Arizona’s delegates on Saturday is actually high stakes this year.

Tim Sifert, communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, said the process is traditionally just a formality.

“But this time around in 2016 it is much different and it is extraordinarily competitive,” Sifert said.

Trump’s victories in Eastern states on Tuesday have given him a clearer path to secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to become the nominee before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. But if Trump doesn’t wind up securing that support before the convention, and falls short of 1,237 votes in the first round of voting, there will be a contested convention. Under that scenario, delegates from each state would keep voting until a nominee got 1,237 votes.

Arizona will send 58 delegates to Cleveland. Three have already been selected, so there are 55 open slots. Of those open slots, 28 are at-large positions, while the remainder are chosen at a rate of three per congressional district.

The process to choose those 55 national delegates actually began weeks ago with the selection of the 1.251 state delegates who will vote for the national delegates. Republican precinct committeemen selected the state delegates in a series of local meetings in March and April.

On Saturday, state delegates will vote on a roster of more than 700 candidates who are running to be national delegates. Most are running in both the at-large and congressional district contests.

“I would say I’ve worked in Arizona politics for about 25 years and I don’t ever recall there being this much interest in the delegate positions,” Sifert said. “So it really is unprecedented in recent memory.”

Trump won Arizona handily in the presidential preference election on March 22, and under Arizona law, all 58 delegates will have to vote for Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland.

But the delegates are free to vote how they want if there are later rounds of voting. Both the Cruz and Trump camps are working hard to get their supporters elected as delegates because of that possibility.

State Treasurer Jeff DeWit chairs the Trump campaign in Arizona, and said his team will unveil an official slate of Trump delegate candidates on Saturday.

“We need to make sure the people we send to Ohio will stay with Trump on every vote,” DeWit said. “We have a good list of people who have helped with the campaign, who have door knocked and are really good strong Trump supporters.”

But even though Trump swept Arizona, that doesn’t mean his delegate slate will necessarily prevail in Saturday’s much smaller contest.

“I think it is going to be pretty close from how it is looking,” DeWit acknowledged.

DeWit says in the local meetings to select the state delegates, voting policies varied locally, which he said benefited Cruz.

Some meetings allowed “proxy” votes for absent precinct committeemen, while others did not. DeWit said the variation was often used in ways to benefit Cruz, allowing Cruz supporters to pick up state delegate slots.

DeWit claims Governor Doug Ducey’s office staff helped with those efforts.

“The Ducey staff people who work in the Governor’s office have been at these meetings pushing Ted Cruz’s slate,” DeWit said. “They have said that their goal is to get the Ted Cruz delegates elected. The Governor wants to be the chairman, and from what we have heard, he wants to turn the delegation to Cruz on the second vote. And so we are actively working to keep that from happening.”

Ducey’s office did not return a request for comment, but the Governor has not publicly endorsed a candidate. Ducey himself is one of the candidates to be a national delegate along with other known Republican leaders, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Cruz supporter Joshua Askey acknowledged there is a lot less love for Trump in the crowd who will be voting on Saturday versus the general population.

“The appeal that Trump has on the populace is huge, but the people that are truly involved in the party at the grassroots — such as myself, my wife and others — the majority of us are not supporting Trump,” Askey said.

Askey says his camp is trying to elect delegates who will vote Trump on round one — as they are required to do under Arizona law — and then if there are later rounds, “be true to Cruz on the second, third, fourth, fifth round.”

Askey hopes his name will be on Cruz’s official slate of delegate candidates that will be released Saturday.

Zac Moyle of the John Kasich campaign said his campaign will not put out a slate of Kasich supporters, but rather will back a slate of candidates who represent Arizona and are not necessarily committed to a candidate yet.

A.J. La Faro, a former chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party who is supporting Trump, said there are three main camps heading into the convention.

“Trump supporters, Cruz supporters, and 'anyone but Trump' supporters,” LaFaro said. “They are all jockeying for position, they are all whipping the vote, and lobbying to get their people elected at the state convention.”

LaFaro said he feels confident there will not be a contested convention because he believes Trump has a good chance of winning 1,237 delegates before the convention.

But he still said he worries party elites will try to block Trump supporters from becoming Arizona delegates. He has called on Trump supporters to show up in large numbers on Saturday and protest the state party leadership.

One of LaFaro’s complaints is over the $50 admission fee to the convention, which he calls an unconstitutional poll tax. LaFaro has promised to show up on Saturday with a megaphone to make his opinions known.

“I think it is important that a platform be established outside of the convention for people to have an opportunity to speak their mind,” LaFaro said.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.