Battle Brews Behind the Scenes of New York's Primary

A small group of New York Republicans have an outsized role in the process.

ByABC News
April 19, 2016, 9:04 AM

— -- As New Yorkers head to the polls today, another battle is brewing to select the delegates to represent them at the GOP’s national convention this summer. And if the Republican presidential race goes to a contested convention, a small group of New York Republicans may have an outsized role in helping sway the outcome.

The low number of Republicans in populated places like New York City, coupled with the power the New York State GOP bequeaths to county chairs, means that the local leaders can exert significant influence on selecting the individuals who will determine who will represent the Empire State at the party’s national convention in July.

If no presidential candidate secures enough delegates to clinch the nomination on the convention’s first ballot, when New York’s and most other state’s delegates are required to follow their state’s vote, those New York delegates can choose whomever they like.

That dynamic means the county chairs, who can exert influence over the small number of elected Republican officials who select those delegates at conventions across the state next month – members of the party’s state committee – can become the surest target for campaigns hoping those officials pick people who are willing to switch allegiance to another candidate on later convention ballots.

“It would be foolish to say the chairs don’t have influence on the committee members,” Raymond Scollin, the chair of the Franklin County GOP, in upstate New York, told ABC News, although he added that those members “have minds of their own.”

“Most of the state committee people from our counties are going to be people that we know, that we’ve trusted to be in that position, so that we can generally speak to our own state committee people about who we would like to see as delegates,” Mike Cuevas, the chair of the Schenectady County GOP and a supporter of Republican hopeful and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, told ABC News.

Each of the state’s 27 congressional districts sends three delegates to the Republican National Convention; in addition to those 81, 14 more delegates will be selected at the statewide level. Those interested in running for a delegate slot at the district level will typically just make their desire known to their county chair, who can float their names in the nomination process, according to Franklin County’s Scollin.

In less populated parts of the state, where one congressional district may encompass three counties, a larger number of representatives will wrangle over the identities of just a few delegates. But in New York City, home to relatively few Republicans but many congressional districts, one person can affect delegate selection in several districts.

“The Manhattan chair will probably have a greater influence, because there are multiple congressional districts inside the borough,” Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for the state GOP, told ABC News.

Nine delegates, or about 9 percent of the state’s total count, will come from Manhattan.

In an interview with ABC News last week, Manhattan GOP Chair Adele Manpass said it was “way, way, way too early” to speak about the delegate selection process before today’s primary vote had even taken place, but she did marvel at the newfound role New York found itself playing in the GOP race.

Candidates typically only visit the Big Apple to raise money and appear on national television. “For many people, it’s a new thing to have people come and ask people for their vote,” Manpass said.

And every vote counts, some more than others. In one congressional district spanning part of the Bronx and the city's northern suburbs, just 285 people cast ballots in the Republican presidential primary in 2012. Two of the three 2016 Republican candidates -- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- have visited the overwhelmingly Democratic Bronx to ask for residents’ votes.