Why Oregon’s Kasich delegates went to Trump

Register Guard - July 21, 2016

PORTLAND — When Oregon’s delegation trekked to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention this week, they did so knowing exactly how the delegates from the 415,700 Republicans who casted primary ballots months ago were originally allocated: 18 votes for Donald Trump, five for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and five for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

State law requires, or “binds,” delegates to their prescribed candidates for the first two voting rounds in most cases. But during Tuesday’s roll call — right before Trump sealed the nomination with a vote from his home state of New York — Oregon Republican Party Chair Bill Currier approached the microphone with a different tally for the record: 23 votes for Trump and five for Cruz.

Bruce Starr, a former state lawmaker who also worked on Kasich’s local leadership team, said he and the other Kasich delegates huddled on the convention floor and agreed to instead support Trump “in order to create at least an impression of order and party unity.”

The Kasich delegates, as it turned out, weren’t bound to any candidate. Under state-party and RNC rules, the five could vote as they pleased — a freedom usually only afforded to superdelegates, which the Oregon GOP eliminated earlier this year amid scrutiny nationwide over their fairness to voters.

“I approached them and said, ‘Here’s the situation, how do you want to proceed?’ ” Currier recalled telling the Kasich delegates that day on the floor. “But I had talked about it in group meetings several times.”

But others like Jeff Reynolds — who was off-site when his alternate Kasich delegate voted in his place — say they had no clue until after the fact.

“I was livid when I found out,” Reynolds, former Multnomah County Republican Party chair, told The Associated Press. “Had I been there, I would’ve insisted those votes go to Kasich even though I’m a Cruz supporter ... It may have been allowable by the rules but it certainly wasn’t good optics in bringing the party together.”

The confusion stemmed from the RNC’s Rule 40, which says a candidate needs to win at least eight states — up from five in 2012 — to be nominated at the convention. That meant Kasich, who clinched only his home state of Ohio, was out of the running. Because Oregon GOP rules align with the RNC in this instance, rather than state law, the Kasich delegates were unbound.

Other nuances caused similar situations in more than a dozen other states that day, such as when Utah’s entire delegation, for instance, went to Trump instead of Cruz. The shifting of some Kasich and Cruz delegates that ensued thereafter didn’t have a material impact on the outcome of Trump’s nomination, but it aggravated tensions from Monday when the RNC refused the ‘Never Trump’ movement’s push to unbind delegates.

The discord in those first two days, followed by Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump during his speech Wednesday, stood at odds with the RNC’s push to unify the fractured party ahead of November.

As things were set to wrap up in Cleveland Thursday evening with Trump’s acceptance speech, Oregon’s delegation was somewhat mixed about party unity. For Reynolds, the Trump campaign has more convincing to do.

“Trump hasn’t done enough to bring the party together,” Reynolds said. “It’s not a Texas Sen. Ted Cruz thing or a Donald Trump thing. It’s ‘are you going to hold up the conservative values that we hold dear?’ ”

Starr would like to see Kasich run again in 2020, but in the meantime he hopes the vacant Supreme Court seat is reason enough to support Trump in November.