HARRISBURG, Pa. — A solid majority of Pennsylvania Republicans elected as delegates to the GOP’s presidential nominating convention in Cleveland say they intend to vote for the candidate who won a thumping primary victory in their state – Donald Trump.
The ballot didn’t tell voters which candidate the delegates support, and the 54 people who were elected can vote for whomever they want. It’s an unusual system that raised the prospect that the Pennsylvania contingent could be decisive in depriving Trump of the nomination by scattering to his rivals despite his victory in the state.
That appears unlikely.
A canvass of the winners by The Associated Press after Tuesday’s primary found that 40 of the 54 intend to vote for Trump, propelling him closer to the support he needs to win the nomination on the first vote at the convention in July.
About two-thirds of those 40 were Trump supporters from the start; the rest said they would support him because he won their congressional district. Four are expected to vote for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, nine are uncommitted and one is waiting for a final tally in her congressional district.
Several Trump supporters reported getting significant logistical help from Trump’s team during their own campaign to become delegates. Trump took 57 percent of the Republican vote statewide and won all 67 counties, and the strength of that performance also has delegates committing to him.
“On all ballots, I will vote for Donald Trump,” said James Klein, a delegate-elect from central Pennsylvania. “It’s Trump or consequences, Donald or the door.”
What some of the other 53 elected delegates had to say:
Mary Ann Meloy ran as an uncommitted delegate and plans to remain that way for now. The Pittsburgh resident says the state’s rules were drawn up to give her latitude to take into account events leading to the convention, including Trump’s considerable support in western Pennsylvania.
“There are just so many things that can happen in this world between now and July when we take that first vote,” said Meloy, a semi-retired public affairs consultant who has held several appointed posts in state and federal government. “I really prefer to wait.”
“Truly uncommitted” delegate Gordon Denlinger, a former state lawmaker who is now a managing partner of a venture capital firm, said he’ll give great weight to how his district in the heart of Amish country voted – Trump won it with 44 percent.
But he’s also weighing factors such as electability, leadership and adherence to conservative principles
NOT GOING TO SWITCH
Wayne Buckwalter ran for delegate on a promise to vote for Trump, and he said he’ll stick with that candidate no matter what.
He said the Trump campaign’s organization impressed him from its first contact in November, providing advice and help circulating petitions and printed matter to hand out at the polls.
“I’ve been saying for months I will vote for Trump in the first through the last ballot,” said Buckwalter, an estate and trusts lawyer from suburban Philadelphia.
“The way the Pennsylvania system goes, the only thing people are bound by is their morality,” he said. Will he ever switch from Trump? “Never.”
THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN
Scott Uehlinger, a retired CIA operations officer and retired naval officer, did not emphasize his support for Trump during the campaign, instead promising to cast his vote however his district voted. Like the rest of Pennsylvania, his district went for Trump.
“The people’s choice was Trump, and I have no problem with it,” said Uehlinger, who lives near Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania.
THE INEVITABLE WINNER
Jim Vasilko, a construction company owner in Johnstown, likes Trump’s views on trade and immigration, and ran as a delegate committed to vote for Trump at the convention. Vasilko has a hard time envisioning a contested convention.
“The way I look at it is, he is ahead by millions of votes and hundreds of delegates and to sit there and try to deny him the nomination is just asinine,” Vasilko said. Trump “says out loud what the rest of us feel.”
Delegate-elect Rick Morelli has been called a couple of times recently by the Cruz campaign – including by the candidate’s wife, Heidi – “asking a couple questions, stating the fact that their campaign would like to stay in touch.”
The software salesman from Sugarloaf in northeastern Pennsylvania believes “there will be shenanigans” from those who want to nominate others, but that won’t sway him from supporting Trump “the whole way through.”
THE OTHER 17
Pennsylvania will also send 17 other people to the convention who will be bound to vote for Trump, as the statewide winner, on the first ballot.
This report was written by Mark Scolforo and Marc Levy of the Associated Press.