Lansing — Hundreds of Michigan Republicans gathered in downtown Lansing Friday night to battle for delegate spots to the party’s national convention, where a potential showdown is brewing among presidential contenders.
A few nominated delegates either promised to vote for another candidate if the Republican convention can’t select a nominee on the first ballot or kept their options open. Michigan delegates elected this weekend will be bound to vote in accordance with the outcome of the state’s March 8 primary — but only through the first ballot.
This requirement makes their selection especially important if front-runner New York businessman Donald Trump doesn’t win the 1,237 delegates required to secure the presidential nomination on the first ballot at the July 18-21 convention in Cleveland.
“Campaigns are going to be really watching who’s chosen as delegates and alternates, and trying as hard as they can to make sure they’re people who will support those candidates on multiple ballots in case of a contested convention,” GOP consultant Stu Sandler said Friday.
He called the prospect of a contested national convention “a good possibility.”
The state convention kicked off Friday with caucus meetings for all 14 congressional districts, where local members jockeyed to fill three delegate slots — one each for Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. More than 300 Republicans are competing for the 56 open delegate slots this weekend, state party spokeswoman Sarah Anderson said.
Trump won the March 8 primary with 36.5 percent of the vote and captured 25 delegates, while Cruz and Kasich got 17 each.
Michigan will send 59 delegates to the Cleveland convention in July, including 42 from the districts and another 17 at-large. The delegation will be finalized Saturday as the state convention continues.
Cruz makes inroads
Cruz made inroads in Metro Detroit’s 13th Congressional District. Tim Brown of Westland was elected as a Kasich delegate but emphasized that he is only pledged to the Ohio governor through the first ballot at the national convention. He said he likes Cruz for president, along with his wife Jody Brown, who won election as a Cruz delegate in the district.
Steve Boron, also of Westland, was elected as a Trump delegate but repeatedly told The News he would be “unbound” after the first ballot. He declined to say whom he might support if the national convention goes to a second round of voting.
Michigan’s three national committee members get at-large delegate slots. Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told The News she and national committeewoman Kathy Berden will go to the national convention as Trump delegates. Dave Agema is pledging his vote to Cruz.
Asked Friday if she plans to support Trump’s nomination beyond the first ballot, McDaniel left an opening.
“I’m going to support the will of the voters in Michigan,” she told The Detroit News. “That’s why I bound myself to the voters of Michigan through the first ballot, absolutely, and then we’re going to see what takes place in Cleveland. But I’m intending to stay with the voters of Michigan.”
Berden vowed Friday she will stay with Trump. “I am pledging for Trump for any amount of ballots because he was Michigan's choice,” she told The News. “So I want to honor the voters of Michigan.”
At least one of the congressional district caucuses got rowdy. In the 11th Congressional District meeting, Matt Maddock, a bail bondsman from Milford, filled the caucus with delegates who identified with his conservative Battlecry Michigan network.
Maddock ordered the sergeant-at-arms to block entry to the caucus room to restore order during the raucous meeting, where several Republicans left early when it was clear Maddock's forces out-numbered the rest of the convention delegates.
"Do not let anyone else in this room unless it's an emergency," he declared.
Maddock's wife, Meshawn, was elected Trump's delegate from the 11th District, which covers part of Metro Detroit. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton, Cruz's state co-chairman, won the 11th District delegate spot. Tamara Swinson-Carlone of Novi was elected Kasich's 11th District delegate.
Swinson-Carlone said she is a firm Kasich supporter, but doubts he can win the nomination.
"I think his chances are pretty low, ... but we have a job to do at convention," she said.
Tussle for Trump
Other caucuses had milder fireworks. In mid-Michigan's 4th Congressional District, former state Sen. Roger Kahn of Saginaw County was seeking to become a Trump delegate.
Kahn’s candidacy drew suspicions from conservative blogger Brandon Hall, who called the former two-term senator is a “Kahn artist” trying to “hijack” a Trump position. But Kahn maintained he fashioned himself after Trump — a politician who sometimes “trips on his tongue.”
But the 4th District caucus on Friday night elected Saginaw GOP Chairwoman Amy Carl over Kahn as a Trump delegate. Carl this week posted to Facebook a signed pledge vowing to support the New York businessman “on every ballot” at the national convention.
State Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland was easily elected as a delegate for Cruz, whom he has endorsed. Former Michigan State University Trustee Dave Porteus, who is on the Kasich campaign’s state leadership team, won election as a delegate for the Ohio governor.
In the 8th Congressional District, Trump state campaign director Scott Hagerstrom of East Lansing and Cruz state director Wendy Day of Howell won their candidates' respective delegate seats.
Ingham County GOP Chairwoman Yavonne Whitbeck of Leslie won the 8th District's Kasich seat, denying the Oakland County portion of the district a delegate.
In the 7th Congressional District, which covers parts of Wayne and Washtenaw counties, state Rep. Nancy Jenkins of Clayton was elected to the Kasich delegate slot. Glenn Frobel of Reading won the Trump seat, and John K. Taylor of Dexter was elected to the Cruz delegate position.
Other delegate selections
Northern Michigan's 1st Congressional District caucus ended with conservative talk radio host "Trucker" Randy Bishop being declared the winner of the Kasich seat. Just as Bishop told a reporter he would be "fully committed to (Kasich) until he drops out," a caucus election official informed Bishop that the vote counter had declared the wrong winner.
Former Escanaba Mayor Judi Schwalbach won more votes than Bishop and was awarded the Kasich delegate spot.
"It's like the Miss America pageant -- they just read it wrong," Schwalbach said.
Bishop will be the alternate.
Schwalbach didn't rule out voting for a different candidate at the convention if Kasich doesn't meet a rule that candidates must win eight states or territories to be nominated at the national convention in Cleveland.
"If I can't vote on the first ballot, then I won't," she said. "Now, on the second ballot you're released."
State Rep. Ed McBroom of Delta County was elected the 1st District's Trump delegate, and Rep. Ray Franz of Manistee County was tapped to be the Cruz delegate.
By contrast, the 3rd Congressional District representing part of west Michigan elected its delegates and alternates in an hour.
Kent County GOP Chairman John Inhulsen of East Grand Rapids was elected to the Kasich seat. Grand Rapids resident Matt Hall won the Trump seat, while Barb Bookout of Grand Rapids won the Cruz delegate spot.
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, is vying for one of Cruz's three statewide at-large delegate slots instead of seeking his district's seat.
"There are a lot of really committed activists in our district and they deserve to have one of those positions," Amash told The News.
Calley to run, Snyder to speak
The state GOP’s powerful Credentials Committee was originally scheduled to meet late Friday to nominate a slate of at-large delegates ahead of a Saturday vote by state convention delegates. But the slate announcement has been moved to Saturday morning.
The slate will likely contain some familiar names.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will run to fill one of the at-large slots, he told The Detroit News. Calley wants to attend the national convention as a pledged delegate to Kasich, whom he endorsed in the primary.
Calley said he is seeking one of Kasich’s three statewide at-large delegate seats to keep open the Kasich seat in west Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, where he resides.
“It’s normal protocol for someone like me to go statewide so I don’t take up a spot for a local activist,” he said Friday.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is hoping to be an alternate delegate but was not tied to a presidential candidate as of Friday afternoon. A spokesman said Johnson was working with the party to “identify what’s needed.”
Gov. Rick Snyder will speak Saturday morning at the state convention but will not run to be a delegate. He chaired Michigan’s delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., but has largely shied away from politics during the Flint water crisis.
“He’s staying focused on Michigan’s comeback and fixing all challenges for the state,” spokesman Kyle Robertson said Friday.
Attorney General Bill Schuette — who has not endorsed anyone since his endorsed candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, dropped out of the race — is also not planning to run as a state delegate.
“He’s not going to take a slot away from the grassroots,” said spokesman John Sellek, who noted Schuette still plans to attend the national convention in July.
‘A part of history’
Agema will go to Cleveland as a pledged delegate for Cruz, whom he endorsed in February and intends to support throughout the convention.
Cruz and Trump both have strong grassroots support, he said, but Agema is wary of a stealth effort by “establishment” Republicans to nominate their own candidate in Cleveland.
“The question here today is: Are these delegates really for who they say they are, or are they waiting for the second vote where they can flip and put somebody else entirely in?” he said Friday evening. “That’s the million-dollar question. That’s why it’s so important to get the correct delegates in.”
The possibility of a "brokered convention has more people interested in the process,” Anderson agreed. “People want to be a part of history if it’s made.”