(CNN)As competing factions' maneuvering around the Republican National Convention comes down to the wire, eyes are starting to focus on one senator to determine whether the gathering is good or bad for Donald Trump.
Senator could play king-maker role at GOP convention
Utah Sen. Mike Lee is not only going to the convention -- he is serving as a delegate on the powerful Rules Committee, along with his wife. As one of the 112-member committee, Lee will play a role in drafting the rules for the convention. Meanwhile, an effort is underway to strip delegates of binding and allow them to vote for whomever they choose on the floor, and Lee could determine whether or not that movement gets a chance to get a vote on the floor of the convention.
Randy Evans, an RNC committeeman from Georgia and Rules Committee delegate and lawyer who has worked with the RNC and Trump campaign, has compiled a list tracking delegate leanings at the convention. He estimates that right now, the delegate unbinding effort has about 18 members of the Rules Committee behind it -- far short of the 28 needed to get a minority report that merits an up-or-down vote on the convention floor.
But he expects that Lee, who has thus far declined to publicly commit on the movement, could play game-changer as one of the highest-profile members of the committee.
"I think if Sen. Lee stands up in the Rules Committee and says, 'In the interest of transparency I think the delegates should get their choice,' I think they get their 28," Evans said.
Lee has remained noncommittal. The senator's office on Wednesday said his position has not changed, that he remains undecided as he has repeatedly told reporters. During the primary, he appeared on the campaign trail with both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, close friends of his, and then endorsed Cruz shortly before Rubio exited the race.
A source familiar with Lee's deliberation said that's not the senator playing games,it's just that he still hasn't made up his mind on what he wants to do. The source said Lee has been hearing out all sides of the issue and remains in listening mode.
Lee, a conservative who often sides with colleagues like Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on civil liberties issues, could be persuaded either by the argument that delegates should be free to vote their conscience or by the counter argument that the votes cast by Republicans in the primaries should be upheld by the delegates.
Trump's actions in the next few days could be a deciding factor for Lee. The source said the senator is focused on policy, and would take seriously the policy proposals that Trump may put forward.
Evans also predicted that Trump's behavior over the next few days could be the key to many persuadable delegates.
After weeks of criticism for comments he made criticizing a federal judge, Trump has had a stretch of better coverage as he has made teleprompter-based speeches on policy and criticizing Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.
The presumptive GOP nominee did, however, lapse into a defense of the use of what critics call anti-Semitic imagery on his Twitter account in recent days, distracting from the opportunity to hammer home critiques of Clinton in the wake of the recently closed FBI inquiry into her State Department email practices.
But if he can regain his focus on Clinton, Evans said, it would likely bolster good will for his nomination.