Inside Ted Cruz's hunt for delegates with Ken Cuccinelli

Story highlights

  • Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is running Ted Cruz's delegate hunting operation
  • Cuccinelli defended his efforts to court delegates against attacks from Donald Trump and his surrogates

(CNN)On March 15, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli -- a Ted Cruz supporter -- was sitting at lunch with his wife when his phone rang.

It was Jeff Roe, who runs Cruz's presidential campaign, and he had a request: Would Cuccinelli run the Cruz delegate hunting operation -- from Houston? They talked about what it might entail, Cuccinelli talked with his wife, and the decision was made.
    "We felt this warranted the sudden and immediate disruption of our lives," he recounted in an interview with CNN. "I got a plane ticket and was on my way to Houston at 10:30 that night."
    The task of herding delegates, as everyone who is mildly familiar with the process knows, is daunting.
    "This is confusing stuff," Cuccinelli said, but he takes great umbrage at the charge that the system is rigged against presidential front-runner Donald Trump, or that Cruz's delegate hunting employs what Trump campaign official Paul Manafort has called "gestapo tactics." In fact, he says, "this is good, old-fashioned running the ball up the middle. We're not the ones threatening people. It's offensive."
    He's talking about the Freedomain Radio interview in which Trump ally Roger Stone (who has no official role with the Trump campaign) threatened to disclose the hotel room locations of disloyal onetime Trump delegates.
    The Cruz campaign does have an advantage, he says, and it's the grassroots organization.
    "We were built as a grassroots campaign," said Cuccinelli. "Neither Trump or Kasich have given any thought about this kind of a grassroots effort. And we started on March 23, the day Cruz announced."
    In fact, he says, the Trump campaign "hasn't even tried" to figure it out -- at least not yet.
    "They've not got some storied generals," he says, clearly referring to Manafort. "They need some non-coms."
    Given the data-driven organization of the Cruz campaign, Cuccinelli said, "the infrastructure was in place." That includes efforts to absorb the Rand Paul and Marco Rubio delegates, he adds.
    It's not easy, Cuccinelli said, because the party has been involved in a civil war for so long.
    "Some of our base folks have been fighting with each other for so long, it's hard to get them on the same team."
    It's especially tough when it means that some Cruz supporters might have to step aside to make room for delegates who once belonged to other campaigns. "We have to encourage people from our slates (of delegates) to step down and make room for (Jeb) Bush and (Marco) Rubio people," he said. "We are trying to expand the coalition."
    To put it mildly, this causes what Cuccinelli calls "relationship challenges," that can include some "awkward negotiations."
    As for the process -- or the notion that it is rigged against Trump -- Cuccinelli doesn't buy it. "It's hard, and it's not for the faint of heart. But the rules have been set since 2015."
    The trick, he says, is to try not to let anything fall through the cracks.
    "It is unbelievable how many details there are to keep track of, and you have to make assessments daily" about how to deploy volunteers and resources. "It's hard to overstate how important volunteers are in all of this."