Nevada’s GOP Delegate Fight: Governor Brian Sandoval Endorses John Kasich

speaks during the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 at the Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter August 30, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Political and economic leaders are attending the summit to discuss a domestic policy agenda to advance alternative energy for the country's future.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval endorsed John Kasich on Saturday, throwing his support behind the Ohio Governor’s long-shot bid for the Republican nomination just before the state picks its delegates.

“John Kasich is the only candidate in the race with a real plan to deliver results, and he is the only Republican who can defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall,” Sandoval said in a statement. “I look forward to helping his team spread this message to voters in the months ahead.”

Sandoval will become a national co-chair of Kasich’s campaign.

Nevada held its Republican nominating caucus back in February. The Sandoval endorsement, coming two months after the state voted, led to a lot of on-line sniggering that it was too late to help the Kasich campaign where it counted. Sandoval didn’t endorse anyone during the state’s caucus, but let it be known that he had voted for Marco Rubio.

Sandoval’s endorsement, though, could be more be important now than back in February. While Nevada decided how its delegates would vote on the first-ballot of the RNC convention two months ago, the state is only now preparing to decide who will serve as delegates.

The Nevada State Republican party convenes for its convention on May 13th. Party members will select the delegates who will represent the state at the RNC convention in July. In most cases, these delegates will be bound to support a particular candidate on the first ballot at the convention, but could otherwise be free to support any candidate on subesquent votes for the nomination.

As a result of the Nevada caucus, Donald Trump won 14 delegates, Marco Rubio seven, Ted Cruz six, Ben Carson two and John Kasich one. The delegate votes for Rubio and Carson are currently up for grabs, according to Nevada law. All remaining candidates are able to compete for these nine votes for support on a first ballot at the convention. It is also possible that the individuals winning these delegate slots could go to the convention unbound to any candidate.

The GOP frontrunner Trump, could move closer to securing the delegate votes he needs to secure the nomination if he competed for, and won, the 9 currently open delegate slots. Ted Cruz could actually come out of Nevada with more first-ballot votes than Trump, despite coming in third in the caucus. Were Kasich to win these nine currently unbound delegates, he would vault to having the second most delegates even though he finished a distant fifth in the caucus.

There is a second battle brewing for delegates in Nevada, however. The individuals who are selected to be delegates are only bound on their first vote at the convention. If no candidate can secure the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first vote, all of the Nevada delegates, like delegates in most states, would be free to support whomever they like.

Hypothetically, Kasich supporters could fill all of Trump’s delegate slots. They would be required to support Trump on the first ballot, but could throw their support behind Kasich on subsequent ballots.

Taking all of this into account, Sandoval’s endorsement of Kasich is very important. Delegates to the state convention, who will elect the individuals to serve as national delegates, have already been determined in local caucuses throughout Nevada.

The Trump campaign has been woefully deficient in managing the delegate selection process throughout the campaign. The Cruz campaign has been much more adept at this, winning many delegates who can support the Senator as the nomination fight goes into multiple ballots. Sandoval’s backing of Kasich gives him a boost in collecting delegates at Nevada’s state convention. The state convention is likely to be dominated by long-time Republican party regulars, with whom the Governor holds great sway.

If this primary season has taught us anything, it is that the Republican nomination is decided by delegates at the convention. The individual states and territories have unique systems for deciding their delegates to the convention and a basket of rules dictating how they should vote.

While these rule largely allocate delegate slots, the process for selecting the individuals to serve as delegates is generally conducted through local and state party conventions. This process is only now coming into focus because of the very real likelihood that no candidate will win the 1,237 delegate votes necessary to secure the nomination on the first ballot. The vast majority of delegates are free to support whomever they want after that first ballot.

Sandoval’s endorsement of Kasich, in fact, may not be two months too late. The endorsement could actually be coming at exactly the right time to benefit the long-shot’s campaign. It is certainly well-timed to try to blunt any action by the Trump campaign to pick up nine currently unbound delegates.