Republicans converge on Fairbanks, with eyes for Cleveland

If Donald Trump doesn’t have the presidential nomination in the bag by July, the Republican National Convention could be the most exciting in decades. 28 Alaskans get to participate, and this week Alaska Republicans will choose who gets to go. APRN’s Liz Ruskin looks at what’s ahead for the state convention in Fairbanks, which runs Thursday through Saturday, and beyond that, at the big show in Cleveland.

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Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at an ABC Republican debate in New Hampshire, Feb. 6, 2015. (Creative Commons photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC)
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at an ABC Republican debate in New Hampshire in February. (Creative Commons photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC)

Republicans don’t want any trouble from the fire marshal when they gather at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel. State party communications director Suzanne Downing said they already have 400 people registered and paid, so they’re nearly at room capacity already, and Downing said people are excited.

“That’s the thing that I’m getting from most people that are going to the state convention: They feel like they’re part of history,” Downing said. “They feel like they’re part of creating America.”

The convention will pick a new state party chair and decide the party platform. But the big buzz now is about which Alaskans will be delegates to Cleveland in July. The Fairbanks convention will choose 12 delegates for Ted Cruz, 11 for Trump and five for Marco Rubio. (Rubio suspended his campaign, but asked to retain the five delegates he won in Alaska on Super Tuesday.) Downing says more than 150 Alaskans have applied to fill those spots at the national convention, and they’re lobbying hard.

At the same time, the presidential campaigns are scrambling to vet the potential delegates. Or, Downing said, the Cruz campaign is.

“Oh, yeah. The Cruz campaign has been very active,” Downing said. “They’ve been scouring the delegate sheets, for people who want to represent Cruz at national convention. And then the national Cruz campaign has been calling each of those delegates and interviewing them and seeing what their true interest is in him as a candidate. They really want to find people who are true blue Cruz supporters.”

The Trump campaign? Not so much, Downing says.

“We haven’t actually had much contact from the Trump campaign,” said Downing. “We haven’t seen them in the office.”

But Anchorage Trump campaign volunteer David Morgan says Trump IS active in Alaska. Morgan says he’s helping party stalwart Jim Crawford and former state senator Jerry Ward as they go through the lists, deciding who’d make the best Trump delegates.

“And in real truth, the local, the statewide Trump people have been doing a lot of stuff through social media, talking to people,” Morgan said. “But (just) in the last two weeks have we actually been getting active in a traditional sense, on the ground.”

All Alaska delegates in Cleveland will be bound to their candidate for at least two rounds of balloting before they become free agents. That’s per Republican Party rules adopted a few elections ago, when Randy Ruedrich was party chairman.

“At the end of the second round the lowest vote getter would be released, and at the third round the next lowest,” said Ruedrich. “So, for all Alaska delegates to get released, it might take five rounds of voting.”

Ruedrich said he helped write the delegate-binding rules, to encourage more Alaska Republicans to the polls on Super Tuesday, and he says they’ve worked, by giving voters “a direct influence” on what happens at the national convention. “I think it’s very important for the voters to have that direct tie to the national nomination process,” he said.

As bound delegates, though, the Alaskans are unlikely to be showered with attention in Cleveland, the way — it’s rumored — unbound delegates from other states may be treated. And Trump may win 1,237 delegates before the national convention even starts.

Regardless, if you’re a political junkie, a national convention is the place to be. Morgan, the Trump supporter, has been to a few conventions, and he says the opportunities to mix and mingle are fantastic.

“From former presidents, secretaries of state, major key individuals you see on Fox News or on Morning Joe, they’ll be there,” Morgan said, “and they’ll be walking around and talking to people.”

Morgan has a tip for people who are vying for a convention spot: Aim to be one of the 25 alternates. Like the regular delegates, you have to pay your own way to Cleveland but he says alternates have more freedom and more fun.

“You can socialize, and you can go up and look at the booths, buy a stuffed elephant or whatever.” Morgan said. “It’s just kind of cool.”

Three of Alaska’s delegates to Cleveland are already chosen, because they hold party offices. They are National Committeewoman Cynthia Henry, National Committeeman Ralph Seekins and outgoing Party Chairman Peter Goldberg. That leaves just 25 delegate slots to fill, and a lot of people hoping to get one.