Facing the prospect of a contested convention, the three remaining GOP presidential contenders are turning up the charm offensive on the party’s governing body, the Republican National Committee.
With the odds of an unsettled convention higher than at any point in 40 years, campaigns are paying close attention to the influential 168 members of the RNC who oversee the party. As the group meets at the posh beachside Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida, for its spring meeting, candidates and campaigns are hosting receptions and meetings in an effort to influence delegates.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a long-shot to the nomination, had announced his intention to attend the meeting last week, deploying his top aides to hold briefings for members. Aides to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ironed out a last-minute trip to the Sunshine state Wednesday, according to two RNC members. Senior Cruz aides were already scheduled to deliver an 11 a.m. briefing Wednesday to many conservative committee-members outlining their path to winning a contested convention. Cruz will also meet in small groups with RNC members later Wednesday.
Each of the 168 members of the RNC—the state chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman from each state, territory, and Washington, D.C.—is an automatic delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, meaning the Florida meeting represents the largest gathering of known delegates to the convention, and the second largest to the as-yet-elected California delegation’s organizing meeting. Cruz and Kasich will address the full body at receptions Wednesday evening—their second time each addressing RNC members.
After Tuesday’s primary results both are now unable to secure the nomination without multiple ballots in Cleveland, making the support from the party’s insiders all the more vital. To date, most members of the RNC have remained officially neutral in the race—though many held favorable opinions of now-suspended candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Few have warmed to Trump, and Cruz and Kasich see opportunities to secure the support of the influential delegates. More than two dozen RNC members are officially unbound and can vote for whomever they choose on the first ballot in Cleveland.
Even GOP front-runner Donald Trump is sending his newly appointed delegate team, led by longtime Washington lobbyist Paul Manafort and former Scott Walker campaign manager Rick Wiley, to Florida to meet with RNC members at a reception. Trump’s team will also hold smaller meetings with delegates, RNC members said. Trump has been critical of the RNC’s handling of the primary process, claiming the body was “rigging” the campaign against him. He warned RNC members this weekend of a “rough July” if he’s denied the nomination in Cleveland, as RNC chairman Reince Priebus worked to put the kibosh on the consideration of changes to the party rules that would have inflamed tensions.
The wooing of the RNC delegates is only a preview of what could be a long three months to a possible contested convention, with campaigns and candidates forced to appeal to individual delegates in order to lock in their support.