Ted Cruz sweeps Wyoming Republican Convention

Story highlights

  • Ted Cruz won all of the 14 delegates up for grabs at Wyoming's state convention Saturday
  • A group of Wyoming GOP leaders backed a slate of unpledged delegates meant to give the state more leverage

Casper, Wyoming (CNN)It's a Ted Cruz sweep in Wyoming.

Cruz won 14 of 14 Republican National Convention delegates up for grabs at the Wyoming state convention here Saturday.
    The crowd here was clearly in Cruz's corner, as the Texas senator was the only candidate to make the trip to Casper -- ahead of a major snowstorm -- and Sarah Palin, scheduled to speak for Trump, previously canceled.
    "If you don't want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, if you don't want to hand the general (election) to Hillary Clinton, which is what a Trump nomination does, then I ask you to please support the men and women on this slate," Cruz said, holding up a piece of paper of 14 recommended delegates.
    Twelve members of that slate won. They are bound to the senator on the first ballot and have also made a non-binding pledge to stick with him as long as things go in Cleveland.
    For Cruz, Saturday is another victory that demonstrates how his campaign has organized party insiders and activists to make it difficult for Trump to capture the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination.
    Trump spent the day in New York, and twice Saturday -- before the vote -- decried the convention process used here and last week in Colorado as being unfair. "The system is rigged," Trump said at a rally in Syracuse.
    Wyoming's delegate process favors the organized. Twelve delegates were already awarded at county meetings last month -- and nine of them are to Cruz backers, with one for Trump, one for Marco Rubio (who told CNN she would vote for Cruz on a second ballot) and one uncommitted. An additional three delegates are party officials, and one, RNC Committeewoman Marti Halverson, told CNN she will back Cruz.
    With Saturday's sweep, Cruz can count on at least 24 of the 29 delegates from the state.
    Cruz's top opponent in Wyoming may not have been Trump at all, but a group of Republicans seeking to send a slate of unpledged delegates to Cleveland. Their hope is to earn the state more influence on the national stage as the three remaining presidential candidates scramble for delegates. Many of those won election as alternates to Ohio.
    Wyoming is as red a state as they come, so the convention was a chance for state Republicans to put their stamp on the race, something not lost on attendees here. The national media present even received an appreciative ovation at the beginning of the day from delegates.
    The Cruz campaign's grassroots organization was front and center here, with printed slates of the 14 recommended Cruz delegates on each table, a hospitality room, a table full of literature staffed by local volunteers and yellow "TED CRUZ Cruzin Cowboys" balloons placed around the convention room. Attendees here said the campaign has been in touch with them early and often via phone, and they have noticed a big social media push.
    By comparison, the Trump campaign distributed a printed slate with six recommended delegates. The Trump campaign had a table with some snacks and literature, staffed by two out-of-town Trump volunteers.
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    "You come in a week before the convention and it won't be as effective," said Tim Stubson, one of several congressional candidates walking the halls at the Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Centre.
    When Trump surrogate Clara Powers, speaking instead of Palin, started a poem: "Who do we want? Cruz or Trump?" several people shouted out "Cruz!"
    Dick Shanor, 61, of Laramie County, is a national delegate already pledged to Cruz. He said he received one call from the Trump campaign, describing it "more as a question about process" than anything else.
    Shanor, whose son, Dickie, was on Cruz's official slate here in Casper and elected to the national delegation, said the goal of backers here is "to give Ted Cruz the least amount of problems he's got."
    Some John Kasich staffers were in the conference center, but there were zero national delegate contenders pledged to the Ohio governor on the ballot.

    Fair or unfair?

    Trump started calling foul well before votes were cast, saying on "Fox and Friends" Saturday morning that states like Wyoming and Colorado show the system isn't fair.
    "I don't want to waste millions of dollars going out to Wyoming many months before to wine and dine and to essentially pay off all these people because a lot of it's a pay-off," Trump said. "You understand that, they treat 'em, they take 'em to dinner, they get 'em hotels. I mean the whole thing's a big pay-off, has nothing to do with democracy."
    Alan Cobb, senior adviser to Trump's campaign, was more diplomatic, saying the state simply doesn't fit well into the overall strategy because of the emphasis on GOP regulars."
    "We know how to read. We read the rules. The rules don't favor us," Cobb said Friday, later adding, "the Allies didn't invade every Japanese island. We skipped some to get to the prize."
    Matt Micheli, the state GOP chairman, rejected Trump's accusations.
    "Absolutely untrue, absolutely not," Micheli told CNN. "This is a process that we've done for 40 years. This is a process that people here are being elected by their peers."
    Stubson, the congressional candidate, agreed. "I don't think there are any fundamental issues with the way it's been done," he said.
    The previously selected Trump delegate, Dr. Jon Baker, said he believes that overall, the setup has hurt the national front-runner.
    "The whole process of the precincts and county conventions is still somewhat confusing to me, Baker said. "I some sense it works against Trump because he has not been involved."
    But Baker, a dermatologist who got involved in the GOP here because of Trump, said his campaign also has not actively courted him or talked about what might happen beyond the first ballot. "As far as today, they haven't brought up strategy at all."

    'Wyoming First' slate

    Coming into the convention, state Sen. Ogden Driskill developed a plan: send a group from Wyoming to Cleveland who are unbound and therefore can get an audience from and influence with potential presidential nominees.
    "If you declare for a candidate, which I did for Romney last time around, you're entitled to spend your money and fly to Florida and raise your hand and he never talks to you, his people never talk to you," Driskill said in an interview.
    Driskill's "Wyoming First" slate includes such party regulars as Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who is not running for re-election, and former statehouse Speaker Colin Simpson.
    "We intend to leverage it to put Wyoming issues in front of all three candidates," Driskill said, citing issues such Environmental Protection Agency regulations on mining and water and the Endangered Species Act.

    Rout in Georgia

    In Georgia, Cruz supporters managed to rout Trump in several congressional district conventions. Georgia's third district selected a slate of national delegates openly in opposition to the billionaire's candidacy after a somewhat contentious show of support for Trump.
    Many Trump supporters cried foul at the process, agreeing with their preferred candidate that the system was "rigged." Pam Ausman, a Trump supporter from the district, said, "Why are we voting if they don't listen to us?"
    Brant Frost, a prominent Republican and Cruz supporter from the district, vehemently denied such charges, saying, "These are the moms and dads of heartland America, playing by the rules."
    Elsewhere, anger at the process was somewhat muted. Brandon Phillips, Trump's campaign director in Georgia, said he was content with the results of his home district's convention, which chose him as one of its three delegates.
    Trump performed strongly in Georgia's primary on Super Tuesday, coming in first place ahead of Rubio and Cruz.