Donald Trump Gains Ground in Unbound Delegate Race and Grassroots Efforts

Donald Trump now has nearly twice the unbound delegates as Sen. Ted Cruz.

May 02, 2016, 2:52 PM

— -- After his decisive win last week in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump is now beating Sen. Ted Cruz nearly two-to-one among unbound delegates who say they will support him on the first ballot, according to an analysis by ABC News.

The GOP front-runner is also showing signs of an increasingly organized delegate strategy.

Trump now leads Cruz 43-22 among delegates who are free to vote for any candidate on the first ballot of the Republican convention this July, according to ABC News data.

Of the unbound delegates pledging to vote Trump on the first ballot, 41 hail from Pennsylvania. By contrast, only three Pennsylvania unbound delegates said they plan to vote for Cruz, while nine others said they were uncommitted.

The data reflects a provisional assessment since unbound delegates may change their minds, and pledges of support don’t always carry over to the second ballot and beyond.

If Trump wins Indiana Tuesday, his path to securing the 1,237 delegate votes needed to clinch the nomination on the first ballot becomes more likely, in which case the ongoing fight to persuade delegates would become moot.

Meanwhile, however, both campaigns are waging an intense grassroots battle to sway delegates in case Trump falls short of a majority before the GOP convention in Cleveland this July.

Assessing Trump’s performance in a series of state conventions this weekend, a Trump campaign official told ABC News that despite losses in Virginia, overall “we turned the corner on delegates this weekend.” Trump won Virginia’s March 1 primary, but won only three of the 13 delegates at stake in the April 30 state convention.

Regarding delegates who are bound on the first ballot but become free-agents on a potential second ballot, the Trump official said "on Alaska, we elected 11 Trump supporters in the 11 Trump slots” and also had a “great weekend in Arkansas, where we delivered six supporters of Trump to fill six delegate slots.”

With Cruz mathematically blocked from clinching the nomination on the first ballot, his only path to the GOP nomination is through wooing delegates over the course of the convention in case there’s a second ballot. But Cruz’s task may grow increasingly difficult as some signs suggest the Trump campaign is becoming more engaged in the behind-the-scenes contest to fill both unbound and bound delegate slots with Trump loyalists.

Trump campaign staffers in Pennsylvania, for example, helped some supporters gather the signatures they needed in order to appear on Tuesday’s ballot.

In West Virginia, whose delegates are also bound on the first ballot but can vote for whomever they want on a second ballot, Trump appears to be the only candidate so far to issue a “slate” of preferred delegates, or guidance to voters on which delegates to select when the state votes May 10.

And in Louisiana, the Trump campaign has moved more quickly and invested more time than the Cruz campaign in courting some unbound delegates who are free agents on the first vote.

Following Trump’s decisive wins last week in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, the Cruz campaign downplayed the loss, saying it amounted mainly to a victory in Northeastern states that are unlikely to vote Republican in November. Instead, Cruz’s chief delegate counter Ken Cuccinelli sought to place the focus on the delegate fight, claiming the Cruz campaign’s grassroots efforts outmatch Trump’s.

“We’re absolutely destroying them in that contest, and how anyone thinks someone running for president can run a presidential campaign with almost no grassroots effort, is beyond me,” Cuccinelli said on a recent episode of ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast.

But Mike Stuart, co-chairman of the Trump Campaign in West Virginia, who is helping lead Trump’s grassroots efforts in the Mountain State, took exception to Cuccinelli’s claim.

“I think it's as delusional as the Cruz campaign is today,” he told ABC News. “When I hear this out-of-stater telling me about the grassroots efforts in my state, where I grew up, and have been involved in politics for decades, it's not believable.

“His comment bears of a lot of wishfulness and hopefulness, but I’m dealing with the reality of how to win in West Virginia. We’re the only campaign with a slate because we understand how the process works.

“I believe our slate of delegates will stick with Mr. Trump through the first ballot, the fifth ballot and even the 20th ballot, if we have to go that far,” he added. “I’m comfortable our team is going to stay with us.”

In Louisiana, despite some reports that the state’s 10 uncommitted delegates will likely vote for Cruz on the first ballot at the Republican convention, ABC News has identified only one unbound delegate committed to the Texas senator, as he and Trump continue to jockey for delegates there.

Kirk Williamson, a delegate formerly bound to Sen. Marco Rubio who is now uncommitted, told ABC News he receives phone calls from staffers in the Cruz and Trump campaigns about once a week. He characterizes these talks as “open-ended conversations.”

“I tell them what I tell you,” he said. “I haven’t made up my mind at this point.”

Leslie Tassin, another unbound Louisiana delegate who was allocated to represent Rubio at the convention but now says he’s uncommitted, told ABC News the Trump campaign made contact with him before the Cruz camp. The Trump staffer apparently also invested more effort into courting him.

“We had a Trump person come to my house and spent an hour and a half,” Tassin said.

Two weeks later, a Cruz campaign staffer in Houston called him on the phone, he said.

“I said, ‘What took you so long to call?’” Tassin said, recalling his discussion. “They said, ‘We weren’t organized. Now we’re organized.’”

ABC News’ Candace Smith, Alana Abramson and Ines De La Cuetara contributed to this reporting

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