Republicans from across Georgia will meet Saturday in district conventions to pick delegates to the July national convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
The potential for a contested convention in Cleveland heightens the importance of the district conventions because every delegate could be instrumental in determining the party’s presidential nominee.
The Ted Cruz and Donald Trump campaigns are eager to see their supporters get those delegate slots. Each district convention will choose three delegates.
“I think the Cruz people and the Trump people are the two most organized. I can’t remember a time seeing two candidates this organized,” said Randy Evans, the state’s Republican National Committeeman and a longtime party activist.
Georgia requires delegates to be bound on the first two convention ballots to vote for the candidate who won the state’s presidential primary. Trump won 39 percent of the vote in the March 1 primary, giving him 43 delegates. Marco Rubio won 17 and Cruz 17.
Though Trump is likely to arrive in Cleveland with the most delegates, he isn’t projected to have a majority. Many observers think that when he comes up short on the first ballot, he could have a difficult time winning on later ballots because many of those serving as delegates personally support Cruz.
Georgia is unlike most states in that it binds delegates to two ballots while most only bind them to one, according to Evans. Some party insiders interpret state party rules as only a one-ballot binding, noting that Georgia can’t enforce a state law in Ohio.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a difference,” Evans said.
He predicts confusion on the second ballot and that a majority won’t coalesce until the third.
Evans also figures that if Trump is only about a hundred votes shy of a majority when the convention opens that he will be able to win over enough delegates to prevail on the first ballot.
No one really knows what will happen in July, which is why there is so much interest in the district and state conventions.
“We’re all looking at who they are going to vote for on the third ballot,” said Cruz state volunteer coordinator Brant Frost.
On Saturday, a couple hundred delegates and alternates in each district will gather in high school gyms, church auditoriums and other places to hear candidate speeches, renew friendships, debate politics and buy campaign memorabilia in addition to the main business of delegate selection.
“I think you’ll definitely see some interesting contests,” Frost said.
Getting out of bed early on a weekend and making the drive – sometimes hours away – usually attracts only the die-hard party volunteers. For instance, the 12th District meeting is in Douglas, Ga., a three-hour drive from Augusta. District Chairman Michael Welsh said that with an 8 a.m. start to registration, attendees will either spend Friday night in Douglas or rise very early.
“And you’re not likely to get all the alternates there,” he admitted. “They may decide to skip the drive and just go to the state convention,” to be held June 3-4 at the Augusta Convention Center.
Convention locations usually rotate around the district, and Welsh said it was Douglas’ turn since it hadn’t held a convention since the city moved from the 1st to the 12th District.