Trump Beat Cruz at His Own Organizational Game in Pennsylvania

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Don't look now, but the Trump campaign may be catching up fast to the Cruz campaign's delegate-selection tricks.

On April 19, NBC News reported the Cruz campaign was bragging that its organizational wizardry would enable the Texan to pick up a lot of Pennsylvania’s 57 unbound delegates on April 26 — delegates that were elected at the congressional-district level with no indication on the ballot of their presidential-candidate preferences. Indeed, Cruz’s Keystone power was supposedly why he was spending the evening of April 19 in that state rather than personally witnessing his drubbing in New York that night. 

He’ll be in Philly for his watch party tonight,” NBC’s Hallie Jackson said. “That’s indicative of where he and his campaign see this race going, to Pennsylvania, where they are looking to make a play for these unbound delegates. Even if they come in a distant third, a top campaign aide tells me, they will still, they believe, pick up more than half the delegates there.”

“They’re looking at more than 30,” she reported.

Well, as it happened, Cruz did better than a "distant third" in Pennsylvania yesterday. He was a distant second to Donald Trump with about 22 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 57 percent and John Kasich’s 19 percent. As expected, Trump won all 17 of the statewide delegates. But at the congressional-district level, Cruz did not win more than half the unbound delegates, and certainly didn’t win "more than 30." According to another NBC report after the primary, Cruz won two. And the big winner was the organizationally inept — or so it was thought — Mr. Trump. 

NBC News reached out to all 54 delegate winners after the polls closed Tuesday night. Interviews reveal that as of Wednesday afternoon 35 said they intend to support Trump on the first ballot at the convention — a number that could rise north of 40 when the final ten delegates are reached

Eight delegates remain uncommitted to any candidate. They have until the first ballot at the convention to decide their vote (and any of the 54 could technically change their minds any time before that first vote).

There was a lot of talk going into primary day in Pennsylvania that a lot of candidates for these unbound and unidentified delegate slots were promising to vote for their district winner. Is that how Trump rolled up his shocking number of pledges? Not really:

Of the 35 delegates who said they’d support Trump, 25 won their election to be delegates Tuesday openly supporting the Republican front runner, reflecting the popular vote results in the state. This group of pro-Trump delegates are critical in the instance of an open convention and if no candidate wins a majority on the first round of voting. The pro-Trump delegates will ensure Trump has support among the most volatile group of delegates.

So only ten of these 35 Trumpsters — and again, the numbers are likely to rise before the counting’s done — are backing him only because he won their districts. Unless it was all a bizarre coincidence, most of them won because somehow or other voters figured out, without any information being on the ballot, that they were with the Donald. That would suggest it was Trump, not Cruz, who had the superior organization in Pennsylvania, by a goodly margin.

Perhaps the narrative that Cruz was limiting Trump’s odds of a first-ballot victory by winning all the unbound delegates in the land was a bit premature, eh? Beyond that, you have to wonder if Team Trump is catching up in the secondary game of getting its own people into delegate slots already bound to him by primary or caucus results, making a second-ballot Cruz win a bit less likely in case Trump fails to get to 1,237 before Cleveland. Anyway you look at it, Trump’s big night on April 26 is getting bigger by the moment.