By Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune
Three Texas Republicans could have golden tickets to their national political convention this summer; unlike their colleagues, they’ll be allowed to vote for any presidential candidate they choose, all because Marco Rubio dropped out of the race Tuesday night.
It would be a hoot to interview them, but nobody knows who they are. Nobody. Not even the delegates themselves.
In a year when Republicans might not settle on a presidential nominee until they convene in Ohio in July, those three Texans — and their counterparts from other states — could be wined and dined and threatened and cajoled as the remaining candidates claw for the votes needed to win the party’s nomination.
Uncommitted delegates will be temporarily powerful.
Rubio suspended his campaign after earning 169 delegates, including the three from Texas. It’s a relatively small number, but it could be enough people to make or break a candidate on the first round of voting at the national convention. If the current leader, Donald Trump, is within striking distance of the nomination, Rubio’s delegates could come into play, either making him a winner or denying him a first-round nod.
If they play their politics right, those stakeholders could be actual steak-holders.
At the moment, it’s possible to say which candidates have how many delegates from Texas but impossible to say who those delegates are. None have been selected, but the process is underway. It began earlier this month, after the primaries, at party precinct conventions.
If a primary is where you separate voters from non-voters, precinct conventions are where you separate true political fanatics from people who are merely responsible citizens.
Those precinct partisans elected delegates to the party’s county and senate district conventions. And on Saturday, the people gathered at those meetings will choose the delegates to the May state convention in Dallas.
On the Saturday morning of that state convention, delegates will go to their congressional district meetings and decide on the three people in each meeting who will represent them at the national GOP convention in Cleveland in July.
So, while their names are not known, it is possible to say they live in the 7th, 16th and 32nd Congressional Districts: in Harris, El Paso, and Collin and Dallas counties.
Most of the state’s 108 delegates (3 for each of the 36 districts) will be “bound” — required, at first, to vote as the state’s voters did. The 47 at-large delegates will be bound as well. Based on the Texas Secretary of State’s unofficial vote counts, Ted Cruz will have 104 delegates, Donald Trump will have 48 and Marco Rubio will have 3.
Rubio suspended his campaign after losing his home state of Florida on Tuesday. He has not officially released his delegates, but when he does, they won’t belong to anyone in particular.
Once they are picked to go to the national convention and then assigned — by a vote — to Rubio a couple of hours later, those three Texans will be the only unbound delegates in the state’s delegation. The others — assigned to Cruz and to Trump — will be bound.
Like the “superdelegates” on the Democratic side of the field, they will be limited only by their promises. No law or rule requires them to go with one candidate or another, or to pay any attention to the voters back home.
Here’s how Eric Opiela, a lawyer who has been knee-deep in the Texas GOP’s rules for years, analyzed the possibilities in a memo earlier this year: “The ‘uncommitted’ delegate provision may provide a well-organized campaign an opportunity to unofficially gain additional delegates. Good organizational skills and strategy at the congressional district meeting level will be required to achieve this possibility.”
That is an understatement. An ambitious conservative with foresight might have started the play already, attending the small precinct meeting with an eye to becoming one of the few superdelegates in a party that doesn’t officially recognize any such thing. Someone even now might be forging a trail through the party politics and rules to a position where all of the remaining national candidates come pleading for the vote that could move them closer to the White House.
Perhaps the nomination will be locked up before the national convention, like it usually is, and the Republicans from Texas and other states and territories will assemble in July not to choose a candidate but to hail one.
Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune.