COLUMBIA — South Carolina Republican Party faithful will converge here Saturday to elect delegates to this summer’s national convention in Cleveland, where a floor fight for the presidential nomination now seems increasingly unlikely.
Front-runner Donald Trump’s sweep of five northeastern primaries last Tuesday means he only needs to secure 243 of the remaining 572 delegates to reach the necessary threshold to stave off a convention fight.
The chance of an open or contested selection would come after delegates vote on the first ballot for the nominee — a ballot which requires delegates to vote for the winner of their state’s primary.
If Trump doesn’t receive the 1,237 delegates he’s within grasp of, reaching a second ballot would be required. Delegates could vote for another candidate, be it Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or someone else.
Until then, S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore believes Saturday will be a calm affair, similar to the 2012 convention which lasted a mere 53 minutes.
“It’s been an orderly process at each district convention,” he said. “This is a citizen self-government process; this process is a fundamentally American system.”
Each of the state’s seven congressional districts elects three delegates and three alternates from a field of 870 participants determined last spring. Three statewide Republican National Committee members automatically are elected as well. Moore is one of them.
On Saturday, all 870 delegates will choose the remaining 26 at-large delegates and 26 alternates from a list that could be around 100 people. The 26 at-large, the 21 district and three statewide RNC members will then vote in July in Cleveland.
The opportunity that Cruz- or Trump-supporting delegates have is in selecting at-large delegates and alternates that back their candidate in anticipation of a second ballot.
Retired Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen, who was a delegate to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, said he expected there will just be a lot of lobbying by both candidates to secure supporters.
“I imagine Cruz will be the person who has the numbers in there with the rank and file among the delegates,” he said.
Both Cruz and Trump campaign officials said they will follow pre-determined rules and are confident in the at-large delegate election favoring their candidate.
“In all honesty, Trump is going to arrive with 1,237 delegates or more and this whole process is not going to be relevant,” said Trump’s South Carolina state campaign chairman Ed McMullen, Jr.
“I know most of these people running for delegate and most are very fair people. There is a group who has emerged on the scene who the Cruz people have dug out of the backwoods of South Carolina and they are showing up as Cruz delegates with an all or nothing attitude. Those people are marginal,” he added.
Alan Ray, a member of Cruz’s state leadership committee, said that’s not the case.
“We’re probably going to have those folks that are true-blue Cruz supporters,” he said.
With 10 more state primaries to go, half of which are on June 7 — including California with its 172 delegates, polls remain on Trump’s side, a fact South Carolina leaders acknowledge.
“First of all, Donald Trump still has a chance to be the nominee by finishing strong over the next five weeks,” Moore said. “It’s the process each candidate agreed to when running and they must abide by it.”
The convention begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham will speak at the event.