Close Republican Presidential Primary Could Put Spotlight on Colorado

01/28/2016 10:51 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Recent rule changes by state Republicans had some political junkies thinking Colorado would be sidestepped by GOP presidential candidates.

But the close race among Republican presidential wannabes could ignite a fight for the support of Colorado's 34 delegates to the National Republican Convention, where the GOP nominee is selected.

The battle begins now, leading up to Colorado's March 1 caucuses, which will be as contentious as prior years, even with candidate visits, as the campaigns push their supporters to the attend.

At each caucus, Republicans supporting Donald Trump, for example, will vote for one or more delegates to the county assemblies who also support Trump.

The more delegates each presidential candidate has coming out of the initial caucuses, the more likely they are to win at the subsequent county assemblies, where delegates are selected for state-wide and congressional district conventions. There, Republicans vote on which delegates go to the National Republican convention.

It's likely we'll see slates of delegates, backing Trump or another candidate.

Reports that these delegates have been prohibited from binding their support to a specific candidate are not accurate.

Republicans in Colorado can still pledge support for a Republican presidential candidate, if they state their intention to do so on a form that's required to run for one of the 34 elected national-delegate spots.

That pledge is much more important than is being discussed.

Colorado has been talked about as a state that will send an unbound delegation to the national convention. That would only be the case if all the delegate candidates who file intent to run forms opted to remain unaffiliated with any presidential campaign. If those delegate candidates pledge to a presidential candidate and are ultimately elected to one of the 34 delegate slots (not counting the party/automatic delegates), then they are functionally locked in with that candidate if that candidate is still in the race for the Republican nomination.

They would be bound to those candidates at the national convention because the Colorado Republican Party bylaws instruct the party chair to cast the delegation's votes at the national convention "in accordance with the pledge of support made by each National Delegate on their notice of intent to run". Anywhere from 0 to 34 delegates could end up bound from the Colorado delegation to the Republican National Convention.

That is a real wildcard in the delegate count in Colorado and nationally.

So, the pledge option on the "intent-to-run" form for delegates opens the door for a showdown among Republicans who have bound themselves to different candidates.

It will trigger fierce competition among the presidential candidates to push supporters to the caucuses.

But the intent-to-run form also presents a public-relations opportunity for presidental candidates whose supporters are selected as county assembly delegates on caucus night.

Campaigns, like Trump's, may quickly announce the number of delegates who've decided to bind themselves voluntarily to Trump, for example.

Putnam writes on his blog that the March 1 Republican caucuses put a "premium on organizing -- turning out as many supporters as possible for the precinct caucuses and then getting those supporters through to the county assemblies. It is only that group of county assembly participants who are eligible to be national convention delegates.... if a campaign is able to corner the market and move through to the next step a bunch of its supporters, that candidate will have a decided advantage in the delegate allocation process. They would dominate the pool of potential candidates and maximize the number of delegates the campaign eventually wins."

So, bottom line, Colorado could see a major fight among the Republican presidential candidates to influence the vote for 34 National-Republican-Convention delegates, who will be selected in early April.