Kentucky GOP leaders pick 25 delegates in quieter state convention

Story highlights

  • Kentucky GOP officials picked 25 delegates on Saturday as part of the state's delegation to the Republican convention
  • These delegates are bound for the first round of ballot but free to vote for whomever in subsequent rounds

Lexington, Kentucky (CNN)Kentucky Republicans selected a group of 25 national delegates Saturday, dominated by top party leaders and insiders.

Saturday's event largely left the Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich campaigns sidelined. It was a flash mob of a state convention, lasting just a few hours in comparison to the sometimes days long affairs in other states where Cruz and his vaunted ground game has bested Trump. In fact, campaigns sent higher profile surrogates to Maine, which was battling out how to distribute their delegates on the same day.
    Topping the list of Kentucky delegates picked Saturday were Gov. Matt Bevin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, after being selected by a small group of party leaders led by former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan.
    These delegates will be bound on the first ballot -- but free to support whomever they like after that. The 25 at-large delegates decided Saturday, combined with 21 previously allocated delegates mean that Trump will get 17 delegates, Cruz will get 15 delegates and Kasich will get seven. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has dropped out of the race, will also get seven delegates.
    The campaigns themselves seemed almost resigned to a Kentucky process geared to the party itself and less of the lobbying and delegate skirmishes which have marked other state contests.
    The Trump campaign sent Ben Carson to Maine this weekend to rally delegates, and the Cruz campaign sent Carly Fiorina. But the convention center, right next door to the home court of the University of Kentucky Wildcats was decidedly genteel Saturday, lacking some of the fireworks from Maine's meeting.
    "It's non-candidate process," said Steve Robertson, a Fayette County Republican and member of the small panel which selected national delegates here Saturday. "I don't think that anyone could claim the mantle of being the best at it."
    An effort by one state activist was made to strip McConnell from the slate of party-supported delegates, but was easily beaten back by the party chairman.
    Just a handful of delegate wranglers from the campaigns worked the lobby Saturday afternoon. The Kasich campaign enlisted Joel Adams, a Louisville Republican operative to try and crack the system.
    "I think it's tough for everybody," Adams said. "It's about who's going to put in the work and spend the time and energy out here."
    But Kentucky Republican Party veterans said the campaigns would have had better luck if they had invested time and energy in the state earlier.
    "Know the rules and get involved early. If you're coming in today, you're kind of late," said John McCarthy, a former Kentucky Republican Party chairman.
    Party leaders rallied the crowd of about 500 here with a focus of unity at the Republican convention in July and jabs at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
    McConnell played up his opposition to Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
    To his critics, he said "I've got two words for you: Supreme Court."