“I have two guiding principles: last man standing and electability.”
That’s how Calvin Tucker, a Philadelphia candidate for Republican delegate, said he will weigh the Republican presidential candidates when he goes to cast a ballot at this summer’s convention.
Tucker is one of Pennsylvania’s 54 “unbound” delegates who are not restricted to voting for the candidate that a majority of voters in their district vote for in the April 26 primary. The state’s other 17 delegates are bound to vote for the primary’s winner.
For months Republicans have debated whether Donald Trump, despite crushing GOP competitors in caucuses and primaries so far, can win in a general election. Meanwhile, Trump has criticized the delegate process as unfair while rumors swirl that delegates and the “GOP establishment” might try to block Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. So Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates could play a crucial role.
“The very nature of uncommitted and unbound gives you some room to have discussion,” Tucker said. “Once you’ve bound yourself, then that’s your candidate. So if that candidate fails to get the required majority vote, 1,237 on the first ballot, then you have to make a decision. Do I stay with that person on the second ballot?”
The real question may be, "Who is making the kingmakers?"
Individual delegates, who are considered federal candidates, are not required to register or report the funds they raise for personal delegate activity, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Delegates can’t receive donations from corporations, labor organizations, foreign nationals or federal government contractors. If they had a political action committee, they could raise unlimited funds, but would need to file FEC reports if they received more than $1,000.
“The campaigns have been reaching out,” Tucker acknowledged. “The Donald Trump campaign has been very aggressive in their reaching out and having a discussion with me and I told them exactly what I told you.”
However, that doesn’t mean campaigns have been giving delegates bags of cash.
"I haven't been aware of any monetary stuff going on,” said Aldridk Gessa-Lang, a Philly Republican delegate who said she plans to vote for Ted Cruz at the convention regardless of how the district votes. "I don’t know what everybody else is doing. I don’t know if anyone is getting offered trips to Vegas or private jets, but it’s not me.”
Aside from handshakes and offers to meet the candidates, no campaign has tried to woo her with gifts, she said.
Lauren Casper, a delegate candidate from the 13th District, said she hasn’t received any donations or gifts from the campaigns either.
Casper personally supports Donald Trump, but is committed to voting for the candidate her district votes for – and questioned the honesty of any delegate who doesn’t share their political preferences.
“It’s really dishonest for my opponents to say that they’re representing the 13th congressional district, but not say who they’re personally supporting,” she said. “A lot of people are coming out and saying they’ll represent their district only on the first ballot. It’s imperative to ask people, what happens after the first ballot? And what happens after the second ballot?”
All Pennsylvania delegates were unbound in previous elections, but the party changed its rules last September.
With Trump’s rise creating what some have described as a full-fledged insurrection with the GOP, delegates have never been under this much scrutiny before.
“I’ve been involved now in five conventions. This year is the first time I've fielded any questions about our delegates,” said Philly GOP executive director Joe DeFelice. “This is uncharted territory for all of us. I think that’s why voters need to read up on who their delegate candidates are.”
For Tucker, he said nothing will influence his ballots at the convention other than the best interests of the party.
“We don’t know what the district’s preference is going to be,” Tucker said. “Is it 24 points one person, and 23 points another person? So is that the will of the people? You have to take that into consideration.”