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National

Cruz Gains Momentum Over Trump After Colorado Victory

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you thought the GOP presidential race was pretty exciting so far, brace yourself for the summer because a contested Republican National Convention is looking more and more likely. And that's turning the party's presidential contest into a mad scramble for delegates.

Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz walked away with all of Colorado's Republican delegates. NPR's Scott Detrow was in Colorado Springs watching it all happen. He joins me now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's talk about these delegates. Just how important is this win for Ted Cruz, these 34 delegates? What do they mean?

DETROW: It's really important. And that's because if Donald Trump gets the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, he's going to do that by a very, very narrow margin. And that wouldn't happen until the very last day of the primaries, June 7. So any delegate that Ted Cruz can claim makes that contest much more likely.

And if a contested convention does happen, it's really important who the specific delegates are because as the rounds would go on, at a certain point, they could basically do whatever they want. They become free agents. So having delegates that a campaign knows it can count on in the first round, in the third round, if, you know, reporters are lucky and it's the 20th round, that goes a long way for campaigns.

MARTIN: Oh, those sound like long nights. OK, so let's talk about what it means to run for delegate. All of a sudden these positions are more powerful than they've been in a long time. I understand nearly 600 people were running for delegate in Colorado. What does a campaign look like?

DETROW: A whole lot of signs. You know, there were a mix of people running. Some of them are congressmen, state officials who've been doing this for a while. And others were people who are just either really into politics or, you know, just were interested in going through this process. So the campaign mostly focused on the delegates that campaigns were putting forward on their slates, the Cruz campaign saying vote for these people, here's the ones that we want; the Trump campaign doing the same. But every candidate did get a chance to speak and give a 10-second-long speech, which led to some funny moments yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCQUEEN: The only person better for president of United States than Ted Cruz would be Jesus Christ, but he is not a natural-born citizen. Vote for me, 346, McQueen. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, please take your pens and vote for number 55, Lawrence Brown or Jenny Raffey, 424. Jenny Raffey, 424.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT ZUBRIN: That's the mothership calling for Donald Trump. I'm Robert Zubrin. I'm with Never Trump, number 584.

MARTIN: Delegates with a sense of humor. So I understand Ted Cruz also spoke at this gathering. There's been a lot of conversation lately about how well the Cruz campaign is really doing at these delegate conventions. And on the other side of this is the Donald Trump campaign, which hasn't been - or there's at least been critiques that he doesn't have the ground game. What did it look like in Colorado Springs?

DETROW: There was a pretty big gap between the two campaigns. Ted Cruz volunteers were everywhere in these bright orange shirts handing out candidate slates. Of course, Ted Cruz himself showed up in Colorado to make a pitch. And those candidate slates, a lot of thought went into them. I talked to Ken Buck. He's a Colorado congressman. He's also the chair of the Cruz campaign here. He said the process of finding and vetting these delegates started in December.

KEN BUCK: We looked at people that had run and won in the past. We looked at people that had been supporting Ted Cruz for a long time. We looked at elected officials who knew how to ran - run campaigns.

DETROW: And the Trump slate, on the other hand, had a lot of errors on it, names that didn't match up to numbers and people who weren't even committed to Donald Trump.

MARTIN: So is the Trump campaign aware of this? Are they doing anything to fix the problem?

DETROW: Yeah, and this has happened in other conventions as well, like North Dakota, and there's been other examples of the Cruz campaign just kind of outmaneuvering Trump. They know this. They're working on it. They've opened a D.C. office. They've hired a man named Paul Manafort who's a longtime Washington strategist. They're trying to get in gear, but the fact is these are things that other more traditional campaigns were doing months ago.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks so much, Scott.

DETROW: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.