Whirlwind #3161

Ted Cruz Gains in Louisiana After Loss There to Donald Trump

Despite coming up short in state’s Republican presidential primary, Texan picks up more delegates and controls key convention roles

March 24, 2016 7:26 p.m. ET

Donald Trump beat Sen. Ted Cruz earlier this month in Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary by 3.6 percentage points, but the Texan may wind up with as many as 10 more delegates from the state than the businessman.

Mr. Cruz’s supporters also seized five of Louisiana’s six slots on the three powerful committees that will write the rules and platform at the Republican National Convention and mediate disputes over delegates’ eligibility this summer in Cleveland.

The little-noticed inside maneuvering that led to this outcome in Louisiana is another dramatic illustration of the inside game that could have an outsize influence on the bitter race for the GOP nomination. A similar process played out three weeks ago in Coweta County, Ga.

While Mr. Trump leads in winning primary and caucus elections, and has won more delegates, the Cruz campaign is proving superior at the arcane game of picking the people who will be the actual delegates to the convention, where they will help write the rules and ultimately choose the nominee.

That means that if Mr. Trump fails to reach the delegate threshold to claim the GOP nomination on the convention’s first ballot, committees dominated by Cruz supporters could work to block him from winning enough delegates to claim the nomination on any subsequent ballots.

The Republican race for the White House got personal between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz after a racy ad featuring Trump’s wife Melania was released online. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday has the play-by-play in WSJ’s Campaign Fight Club.
Kay Kellogg Katz, a Trump supporter who sought unsuccessfully to win a position on a key panel at the convention, summarized the Trump campaign’s predicament this way: “I do not know Mr. Trump, I do not know his staff people. Quite frankly, we don’t have much of a campaign in Louisiana. All we have is voters.”

In other states, Trump supporters have missed out on the early process of becoming convention delegates because they are relatively inexperienced in the party processes. But in Louisiana, Mr. Trump won broad support among elected officials despite a bare-bones campaign infrastructure. Still, he has lagged behind on delegate selection.

With 20 states left to vote, Mr. Trump has won 739 delegates out of 1,237 required to clinch the GOP nomination. He has to win about 55% of the remaining delegates to avoid a contested convention.

Stacking the convention and its committees with supporters is critical for Mr. Cruz, because a contested convention is his only viable path to the nomination. The Texan must win 85% of the remaining delegates to win outright, a highly unlikely scenario with many states awarding delegates proportionally.

The Trump campaign’s first problem is in the overall delegate count from Louisiana. Messrs. Trump and Cruz each won 18 delegates apiece based on the Louisiana results in the primary on March 5. But the five delegates awarded to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are now free agents because he ended his campaign, and Louisiana Republicans expect them to swing behind Mr. Cruz.

Meanwhile, the state’s five unbound delegates—who are free to back the candidates of their choice—also are more likely to back Mr. Cruz than Mr. Trump, according to GOP officials in the state.

No Trump backers won any of those slots. Five of the six committee members chosen back Mr. Cruz, and the sixth is uncommitted to a presidential candidate. Louisiana is the first state to name delegates to serve on the three committees.

Those panels would become critical in a contested convention, which would take place if no candidate wins a majority of delegates on the first ballot. The rules panel will determine which candidates are eligible to be nominated for president, the platform panel will write the party’s agenda, and the credentials panel will mediate disputes about which delegates can be seated. Such fights are already taking place in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, and may happen as well elsewhere.

Ms. Katz, a former state legislator from Monroe, La., who then-Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed to a state tax commission, sought a position on the credentials committee. She lost a 22-5 vote to Kim Fralick, a Cruz supporter who has never before been involved in a major political campaign.

Ms. Katz, who said she has attended every GOP convention since 1984, said the Cruz forces out-organized Mr. Trump’s campaign, whom she said showed no concern about helping their supporters win the committee slots.

Ms. Fralick, a veterinarian from the Baton Rouge suburb of Central, said she was asked by a Cruz official if she could serve on the panel, which entails arriving in Cleveland days before the convention begins.

“They were looking for someone who could come up a week early,” Ms. Fralick said. “I might have been a default choice.”

Ed Brookover, the Trump official leading the campaign’s delegate team, said Thursday that he wasn’t aware that the Trump campaign had been shut out of Louisiana’s committee slots. He expressed optimism that “other spots where this is taking place, we now have programs and plans in place to make sure that Mr. Trump’s supporters are getting to county, district and state conventions.”

Mr. Brookover added that “the good news is that when we let Mr. Trump’s supporters know about these things, they are enthusiastic and go running to them.”

The one Trump supporter appointed to a senior post in the Louisiana convention delegation is Eric Skrmetta, the campaign’s state co-chairman who was named vice chairman of the state’s GOP convention delegation, a largely ceremonial position that carries no statutory responsibilities. Mr. Skrmetta, who is an elected member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, is a Cruz supporter who was named one of Louisiana’s two members on the platform committee. Mr. Perkins said the Cruz campaign sought to get its members appointed to the rules and credentials panels to protect itself in the event of a contested convention.

“It’s more of a defensive posture than anything,” Mr. Perkins said. “They don’t want the rules to be used against them. It’s more of knowing how potent the rules can be and making sure they are fair.”

Write to Reid J. Epstein at [email protected]