WASHINGTON — Florida may prove crucial to Donald Trump’s presidential hopes if the Republican nomination race goes to a contested convention.
Under the state’s GOP rules, all of the 99 delegates Trump received when he won Florida’s March 15 primary must vote for him through the first three nominating ballots at a contested convention.
That makes Florida unique.
Thirty-one states and territories require Republican delegates to support the winner of a given primary or caucus only for the first ballot, according to the Republican National Committee. Seven require delegates to back the primary or caucus winner for the first two ballots. The remaining 19 don’t bind their delegates at all or let them make their own choice once the candidate they were tied to either withdraws from the race or releases them to vote for someone else.
That means Florida, the most important swing state in the November election, also could play a key role buttressing Trump at the July convention in Cleveland if he doesn’t secure the necessary 1,237 delegates before then, which seems increasingly likely.
It also means Florida’s 99 delegates initially will play no significant role at what could be the most tumultuous party convention in decades.
“We’re going to be standing up there in Cleveland like a bunch of nobodies,” said Bill Folchi, chairman of the Charlotte County Republican Party, who was elected last week as a delegate to the convention. “They’ll walk right past us.”
GOP officials in each of the state’s 27 congressional districts will pick three delegates and three alternates to send to the convention. County party officials will elect the delegates between March 23 and May 10.
On May 14, Florida’s Republican executive committee also will choose 15 at-large delegates. Three additional slots automatically will go to state party chairwomanBlaise Ingoglia, National Committeeman Peter Feaman and National Committeewoman Sharon Day,
Any Floridian who’s a registered Republican voter can apply to be a delegate, though those chosen tend to have a demonstrated record of party involvement. So far, more than 500 have done so “and the applications continue to pour in,” said Wadi Gaitan, spokesman for the state Republican Party.
Trump won the state decisively last month, winning 46% of the vote and crushing home state senator Marco Rubio who promptly quit the presidential race.
Local GOP officials seem divided about what delegates should do if the convention reaches a fourth ballot.
Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Michael Barnett, a Trump supporter, told thePalm Beach Post he believes Florida’s delegates should stick with the billionaire businessman.
“Should it go beyond three ballots, I personally will support the winner of the Florida primary and I personally think that’s what delegates should do — respect the will of the voters,” Barnett said.
But Folchi of Punta Gorda said his vote won’t be a rubber stamp, especially if he concludes Trump wouldn’t be the most electable candidate in November.
“Charlotte County voted for Trump, so I’d be inclined to support the county. The state voted for Trump so I’d be inclined to support the state,” he said. “But 100% of the voters didn’t vote for Trump, so there’s clearly some wiggle room and room for judgment. That’s why they call it an election.”
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., agrees delegates shouldn’t automatically back Trump when they’re free to pick someone else.
“If Trump is getting to a fourth ballot, he’s in trouble,” said Rooney, who co-chaired Rubio’s campaign in Florida. “If he’s not locking it up by the fourth ballot, that’s a hard argument for any candidate to make that he’s still owed those votes.”
First reported by