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Cruz forces outflank Trump and fill his delegate slots with Cruz supporters

Republicans at 2nd District convention at Parkway West High School gather to elect presidential delegates.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Former St. Charles state legislator Carl Bearden is co-chairman of GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz’s Missouri campaign. As of Saturday,  Bearden also is a delegate to the Republican presidential convention — for Donald Trump.

Bearden is among a number of Cruz supporters who were elected Saturday to fill the bulk of Trump’s 15 delegate slots at stake at Republican congressional district conventions around the state. Another nine delegate slots were designated for Cruz.

Trump won Missouri’s March 15 Republican presidential primary and, officially, will have 37 committed Missouri delegates at the national convention. Cruz will have 15 committed delegates.

But those delegates, including Bearden, will be committed to their designated presidential candidate only on the first ballot. Many local Trump activists also expect their man to get outmaneuvered when the final delegate slots are filled at the party’s state convention, set for May 21 in Branson.

As it stands, the Cruz camp expects most of Trump’s Missouri delegates to switch to Cruz should Trump fail to capture the needed 1,237 votes on the first ballot.

Bearden said Saturday that reports he obtained from other congressional-district conventions indicate that the Cruz forces controlled the delegate-selection process at six of the eight convention sites, even though Trump — based on the primary results — should have had his allies elected as delegates in all but two of the congressional districts.

Bearden credits his side’s hard work in getting Cruz allies elected as Trump delegates. “It’s an organizational thing," he said. "Grassroots has always been a big deal for the Cruz campaign. Grassroots counts and grassroots matter.”

Many of Trump’s St. Louis-area supporters are furious. At Saturday’s 2nd District convention, held at Parkway West High School, in Ballwin, Trump supporters fought for more than two hours with the Cruz forces and the convention’s leaders.

At issue was the fact that several slates of Trump caucus delegates, who would then have cast votes for the presidential delegates, had been disqualified or ousted in favor of Cruz caucus delegates. The Cruz-allied delegates then voted for the pro-Cruz presidential delegates making up the "Constitutional Conservatives'' slate.

Credit File photo
Carl Bearden

Trump backers, such as Susan Schenberg of Chesterfield, claimed they had been treated unfairly. “The establishment has their own people. They want Ted Cruz and they are controlling the different delegates to get their way.”

St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, who chaired the 2nd District convention, said everything was handled fair and square. Harder is a Cruz supporter. Like Bearden, he also was elected to be a presidential delegate committed to Trump. The 2nd District's third delegate slot went to Madeleine Castle, also described as a Cruz supporter.

As the 2nd District convention got underway, Harder told the crowd to remember the larger stakes. “We’re here for democracy,’’ he said. “And I would thank Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for bringing us together today.”

Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
Harder's joke about the "tools'' needed for a convention chairman touched off a Twitter frenzy because one of the items appeared to be a gun. Harder said later it was a replica, and not real.

Harder also touched off a Twitter frenzy when, as a joke early in the convention, he held up a bunch of items that he said were necessary for him to keep order as chairman. The items included a bottle of Tums, a box of Kleenex, a bottle of whiskey, masking tape — and a gun.

Although Harder quipped to the crowd that the gun may or may not be loaded, he later said it had been a replica and not real.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., circulated on Twitter a photo of the items, taken by this reporter. McCaskill contended that the episode was “weird’’ and criticized Harder’s actions.

Trump prevails in 1st District vote

While Trump allies were outflanked in most parts of the state, they emerged victorious over Cruz supporters in the 1st Congressional District Caucus. 

In the theater of the Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School, delegates selected Gary Wiegert, Robin Hamlin and Rick Perry to go to Cleveland. All of them verbally pledged to back Trump all the way through — even if he doesn’t get enough delegates on the first ballot.

Cruz allies unsuccessfully attempted to knock out a rule requiring delegates to declare for whom they would vote on the second or subsequent ballots. When their effort failed, it was a telltale sign that backers of Trump would emerge victorious over Cruz supporters.

Gary Wiegert
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Gary Wiegert

“The will of the voter in St. Louis city and the will of the voter in St. Louis County said vote for Donald Trump,” said Wiegert, a retired St. Louis police officer who used to be the president of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association. “Now when you vote on that primary day, it doesn’t say ‘Donald Trump — but only Donald Trump and then change to somebody else.’ The people said Donald Trump and we should respect the will of the voters.”

When asked what he thought of news that Cruz-backed delegates were winning elsewhere in the state, Wiegert pointed to Cruz’s national manager, Jeff Roe, who hails from Kansas City. “Jeff Roe is from this state,” Wiegert said. “He’s been playing at this a long time.”

“And so, he’s got people on the ground and he was able to pull this off. Is it within the rules? Yeah, it’s within the rules,” Wiegert said. “But I don’t think it reflects what the people want. I think as a delegate, you’ve got a responsibility to the voters — not what your personal belief is on who should be president. If we’re going to disregard what these people believe in, do we have a primary?”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.