WASHINGTON – Adam Gilbertson is a construction technology expert from Lakeville who could have a colossal role in choosing the next president.
The lifelong conservative backed Marco Rubio in Minnesota’s caucuses last month and is running to be a delegate committed to the Florida senator at the Republican National Convention in July. With Rubio having ended his bid, Gilbertson could be among a handful of Minnesota delegates with enormous power in deciding whether GOP front-runners Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lock up the party nomination.
“Those 17 Rubio delegates are very popular,” said Keith Downey, Minnesota’s Republican Party chairman.
Minnesota was the only state that Rubio won, which means his 17 state delegates — out of Minnesota’s 38 total — eventually will be free to choose another candidate at the convention. That is giving these delegates outsized influence in a campaign season where it is becoming increasingly possible that neither Cruz nor Trump will lock up the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination ahead of the convention.
Within five or so weeks, the Minnesota delegates will be chosen at congressional district gatherings or the statewide convention, setting off a behind-the-scenes battle by the Trump and Cruz campaigns to pick up crucial support before the convention.
Federal election lawyers are poring over campaign finance laws that appear to offer no limits on campaigns or candidates as they aggressively court delegates — including offering to pay convention expenses or by throwing lavish parties.
“If I wanted to pay for all the expenses of all the delegates and have a limo for them and get them a penthouse in Cleveland, there are no limits,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington, D.C. He noted that delegates who are also elected officials are subject to stricter rules around gifts, though for average activists these restrictions wouldn’t apply. “The people who are rank-and-file party members or members of the public are not subject to the rules. I expect them being wooed right now.”
Downey has been working with his own lawyers to clarify the legal boundaries for Minnesota’s delegates. He says he will remind delegates that whatever they do needs to be legal and their behavior reflects on both the state and the party at large.
For Gilbertson, he already has decided that if he becomes a delegate, he ultimately will support Cruz. He would welcome a face-to-face meeting with any of the remaining Republican candidates for president — Cruz, Trump or Ohio Gov. John Kasich — but he says wouldn’t accept gifts or money from the campaigns in exchange for support.
“Obviously, this will be a great honor to be considered by your fellow party members,” Gilbertson said. “It’s also important to have a view toward the fact that you’re representing not just yourself … and it should be done with the highest integrity possible.”
Most national conventions are usually a chance to convene with like-minded activists, celebrate party values and then unify behind the candidate who locked up the party nomination weeks or months ago. But this year stands to see an unpredictable battle for the nomination, with delegates receiving a level of attention from the campaigns not seen in recent history.
Becky Hall, a Duluth mother of five and founder of the Northern Liberty Alliance, said she feels the mounting importance — and competition — on those running to be delegates. She hopes to be elected a Cruz delegate for the Eighth Congressional District in northern Minnesota. She said she hasn’t heard from Trump’s campaign about that decision.
“The competition is going to be stiff,” Hall said of trying to secure a slot to go to the convention. “The race for the delegates is a little more passionate this time. … I’m trying my hardest. I just really want to pay attention and be a voice and make sure we stick to the rules.”
There hasn’t been a contested Republican convention since 1976, when Gerald Ford challenged Ronald Reagan. At that time, Ford tried to pry uncontested delegates — people just like Gilbertson — over to support him instead of Reagan.
Delegates are ‘bound’
Four years ago, Republicans worked on the rules for 2016 and decided that the states had to “bind” delegates proportionally to their caucus or primary results.
Because Rubio won the Minnesota Republican caucuses on March 1, he gets 17 delegates; Cruz placed second and gets 13 “bound” delegates and the remaining eight will go to Trump.
If Rubio is an option during the first vote at the convention, his 17 delegates are required to support him. But after the first ballot, it likely will be a contest between Cruz and Trump, so the Rubio delegates will be free to support someone else.
Wayzata resident Sheri Auclair has worked the phones for weeks trying to get support to be a Rubio-turned-Trump delegate. Auclair plans to run in the Third Congressional District for a Rubio slot with plans to eventually support Trump. If she doesn’t win a slot at the congressional district convention, she plans to be at the state convention in Duluth to run as a Trump delegate.
Auclair said that she personally supports Trump but that she also believes she should support him as a delegate because he has the most votes so far. She said delegates need to represent the voters, ultimately, and not just their personal views.
“At the end of the day, it’s the voters who are getting hurt. … I am being asked to represent a group of people and I need to represent what these people want,” she said. “Thank Goodness Trump is winning, because that’s where I want to cast my vote.”