Cruz, Kasich, Trump vie for North Dakota delegates

What's happens if Trump falls short of 1,237 delegates?
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    What's happens if Trump falls short of 1,237 delegates?


What's happens if Trump falls short of 1,237 delegates? 02:13

Story highlights

  • 25 delegates will be selected this weekend for the GOP convention in July
  • They will be unbound to specific candidates

(CNN)The Republican race will center on Fargo, North Dakota, this weekend where Republican leaders and party activists will pick 25 delegates to the Republican National Convention.

It's not the frozen tundra this time of year, but North Dakota is getting a rare bit of attention from the remaining Republican candidates, each looking for even the slightest edge. Ted Cruz is scheduled to speak there Saturday, Donald Trump has dispatched opponent-turned surrogate Ben Carson on his behalf and John Kasich's campaign is sending top staffers.
The Cruz campaign is also sending Carly Fiorina and Kasich is sending former New Hampshire Sen. Gordon Humphrey, North Dakota GOP Executive Director Roz Leighton said.
    The small number of delegates from North Dakota would hardly be an issue in any other election year. But with Trump hewing to a narrow course to the 1,237 delegates needed to the secure the nomination, and anti-Trump forces achingly close to denying him that, every state and delegate counts.
    And the fight for North Dakota's delegates is only starting -- unlike most other delegates, they will not be committed or "bound" to any candidate on the first ballot heading into the convention. Instead they will be free agents, able to vote for whoever they choose at the convention in Cleveland.
    Here are four questions about the convention process:

    What's at stake?

    The total number of delegates is 28 (25 selected at the convention and then the two national committee members from North Dakota and the state party chairman.)
    This year it's a game of inches. As many Cruz supporters have pointed out -- walking into the national convention with 1,236 delegates is the effectively the same as walking in with 1,000 or even 500 delegates. If the nomination is not secured on the first ballot, the convention fight ensues.

    Who decides the delegates?

    There are no primaries and no caucuses: only party insiders.
    A panel of 11 North Dakota Republican Party leaders -- the Permanent Committee on Organization -- will select 25 preferred delegates from a list of candidates submitted to them (the deadline for consideration was Monday.) They will look at a series of factors revolving around party loyalty, including history of work for the state party, political contributions, runs for office and whether this would be their first time attending a convention.
    That list is then submitted to the full convention, made up of state delegates who were selected by local party leaders earlier this year. Those state delegates will have the final say on who becomes a national delegate.
    North Dakota National Committee member Curly Haugland -- himself one of the three already chosen national delegates -- stated it plainly last month on CNBC's "Squawk Box": "The rules are still designed to have a political party choose its nominee at a convention. That's just the way it is. I can't help it. Don't hate me because I love the rules."
    The other two known delegates are RNC Committeewoman Sandy Boehler and State Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong.
    Armstrong said Friday that 105 people had applied to be delegates.

    Who will the delegates back in July?

    Technically, there are no Trump, Cruz or Kasich delegates -- they're free agents.
    Unlike other states with primaries or caucuses, these 25 delegates to the national convention are committed to whoever their heart desires.
    They were not required to state which candidate they'll be supporting when they submitted their application to be a delegate, noted North Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Roz Leighton, and they don't have to declare their allegiance afterward if they don't want to.
    That said, the most likely delegates are party regulars -- state lawmakers, veteran activists, and people with deeper connections in the Republican Party than just this cycle. That inherently weights it against Trump and the many outsiders and disillusioned Republicans who have flocked to him.

    What happens in Fargo?

    Once picked, 25 national delegates will be wooed by each remaining Republican campaign.
    Cruz is headlining the convention Saturday -- scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. -- shortly before the 25 preferred delegates are presented to the full convention. And Carson is set to speak Sunday morning, shortly before the convention decides who the actual delegates are.
    In between, count on Cruz, Carson and top campaign staff working over every would-be delegate possible.
    Historic contested conventions
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      Historic contested conventions


    Historic contested conventions 02:58
    Oh, and count on plenty of love from the campaigns at the delegate hospitality suites -- a staple of any state convention and a chance to loosen them up with a few drinks.
    And the love doesn't end in Fargo, the free agent North Dakota delegates will be hot commodities at the national convention ... that is, of course, if Trump doesn't secure 1,237 delegates before the national convention. And even if he has locked up the nomination by then, they'll probably still get at least a little love.