BISMARCK – The chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party said Wednesday he expects the state’s unbound delegates to the GOP national convention will coalesce around presumptive nominee Donald Trump if he secures the delegates needed for the nomination, though some will likely still vote for Ted Cruz despite his suspended campaign.
Chairman Kelly Armstrong said his sense was that North Dakota had “a very pro-Cruz delegation, and I don’t know how many of those people are the never-Trump people.”
A Forum News Service survey of the 25 delegates who were elected April 3 at the state GOP convention in Fargo found at least 17 were supporting Cruz or leaning that way a couple days after the convention.
Cruz had addressed the convention April 2, warning that nominating Trump would hand Hillary Clinton the presidency by “double digits” in November.
Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson and one of the state’s three automatic delegates to the national convention July 18-21, said he plans to vote for Trump and his sense is “there is not going to be much of an appetite from the North Dakota delegation to throw this thing off the rails.”
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of appetite to pull somebody out of the bleachers,” he said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich also suspended his campaign Wednesday.
With 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, Trump had secured 1,053 delegates on Wednesday, with 514 still up for grabs, according to Associated Press figures.
Armstrong said the state party will try to accommodate Trump if he wants to meet with North Dakota’s delegates when he visits Bismarck on May 26 for the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.
“We’ll still have members of our delegation vote for Cruz on the first ballot,” he said. But he added, “I think people on the fence are much more likely to gravitate to the only guy left in the race.”
Former state representative Bette Grande of Fargo, who chaired Cruz’s campaign in North Dakota, called his decision to drop out “sad” but said she wasn’t surprised after Trump handily won Tuesday’s primary in Indiana.
Grande said she still plans to cast her first ballot for Cruz at the national convention.
“I think what’s important is that we still speak up for the principles and values that we were campaigning for to start with,” she said.
Grande said she could eventually support Trump “if he comes around to understanding the constitutional values.”
District 45 chairman John Trandem of Fargo, who also was firmly in the Cruz camp, said if Trump reaches the 1,237-delegate threshold, he’ll get his vote.
“He’s not my preferred candidate, obviously … but if Trump is the guy that gets the endorsement, I’m certainly not going to try to make a stink about it or support Hillary Clinton,” he said.
State Sen. Dick Dever of Bismarck said he also will back the presumptive nominee.
“He’s a guy with a big vision. He’s able to get things done. I hope he softens his persona, but I understand he can do that,” Dever said of Trump.
Dever said many people seem to support Trump because he’s outside the mainstream, the same reason many Democrats are backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose convincing win in Indiana increased the chances of a contested Democratic convention.
State Rep. Eliot Glassheim, a Grand Forks Democrat running against incumbent U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, called on his Republican opponent Wednesday to denounce Trump, who Glassheim said has embraced “the politics of fear, hate and intolerance.”
Hoeven campaign spokesman Don Larson said Hoeven won’t denounce Trump or endorse a candidate for president, but will back the party’s official nominee.
“They don’t agree on every issue, but he’ll support the nominee of our party,” he said.
North Dakota’s lone U.S. House member, Rep. Kevin Cramer, already has endorsed Trump.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at email@example.com.