AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — If Ted Cruz can prevail in Indiana and keep alive his slim hope of denying Donald Trump enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination outright, Texas' full slate of delegates will be poised to help him become the party's White House contender.
Cruz won 104 of his home state's 155 GOP delegates in the March 1 primary, but his supporters should so dominate the delegation of Texans attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July that all would likely back him if a multi-round floor fight breaks out.
"I don't know if all of them will be, but I can tell you that a very large majority will be" Cruz supporters, said Eric Opiela, the Republican Party of Texas' assistant general counsel, who hasn't endorsed any presidential candidate.
Trump's path to securing the nomination before the convention improved last week after he swept five Northeastern states. The billionaire businessman has 996 of the 1,237 majority of delegates he'd need to grab the nomination without a floor fight in Cleveland. And he has to win just 48 percent of delegates in the states that haven't yet voted to reach that mark — which is why Cruz is campaigning so hard ahead of Indiana's primary Tuesday.
The Texas senator has 565 delegates and can't reach 1,237 through the remaining primaries. If Cruz can keep Trump from getting to 1,237, though, he could still force a "contested" national GOP convention in which a nominee would be chosen through multiple floor votes.
Trump's second-place finish in the Texas primary netted him 48 delegates and Marco Rubio's now-defunct campaign got three. State party rules bind delegates to vote according to those results on the first vote in Cleveland. If there's a second, Rubio's delegates can support another candidate since he won't be among the top-two delegate recipients on the convention's first ballot.
By the third, all Texas delegates would be unbound.
Each state sets its own rules and may bind delegates past a second floor vote. That means it's unclear if eventually garnering all 155 Texas delegates would be enough to put Cruz over the top.
Still, only California, which holds its primary June 7, has more delegates to the Republican convention than Texas with 172. Its Cleveland delegates will be chosen by the presidential campaigns, however, which means they should be less likely to waver. That could make Texas the largest potential delegate prize up for grabs should multiple convention votes become necessary.
Though he's a polarizing figure in national Republican circles, Cruz remains a hero to Texas' grassroots conservatives, who will control the state Republican convention in Dallas starting May 12. That convention chooses delegates who represent the state in Cleveland, including the ones initially required to back Trump or Rubio.
Republicans from each of the state's 36 congressional districts will hold caucuses at the state convention and choose three national convention delegates for 108. Three more represent the party as members of the Republican National Committee.
The remaining 44 delegates are chosen by a nominating committee at the state convention. Members of that committee can pick themselves as delegates and also tap statewide elected officials. They'll probably make Gov. Greg Abbott, a Cruz supporter, convention delegation chairman.
Cruz backers already controlled March's county-level Republican meetings to choose the at least 7,500 state convention attendees. Randall Dunning, a member of the Texas Republican Party's executive committee, said Cruz partisans also have secured leadership positions on key committees setting state convention rules.
Dunning, himself a Cruz supporter, said of Trump, "His people are using a very populist, rally-oriented vote model, and that model doesn't translate very well into the convention process."
Trump has called the delegate system rigged and his supporters have done little to organize delegates for Texas' state convention, which means they face being shutout in Cleveland.
On March 1, Trump won six Texas counties while Cruz captured the remaining 248. But even in counties Trump won, Cruz supporters were more active in choosing delegates to the Dallas convention.
"The strongest support was for Cruz," said Randy Blair, chairman of the Republican Party in Webb County along the Texas-Mexico border, which narrowly supported Trump during the primary. "I'm sure that there were some Trump supporters, they just weren't going to be vocal because they felt that the biggest pull was for Cruz."
Former Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said only Cruz's campaign has contacted him as it works to secure Texas delegates to Cleveland.
"If you do not obtain 1,237, then the delegate selection process becomes equal to in value to doing well in the primary," Munisteri said. "If you just pay attention to one of the steps, you risk not doing well in the other."