The 2014 elections are still raging, but one of the hottest topics at the Republican state convention here next month will be the 2016 presidential race.
Thousands of party faithful will weigh in through a straw poll, voicing their support for the person they believe will be the best candidate. Not only that, they will determine how primary votes cast statewide in less than two years will be divvied up among the candidates.
Those decisions are crucial now that Texas will be one of the first big states to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election.
“What we decide could give somebody a huge leg up in their campaign,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. “If I was a [presidential candidate], I’d pay a little attention to this.”
The state has traditionally had little voice in the presidential race because, most times, the nominees for both parties are all but set by the time Texans vote.
But 2016, when Texans head to the polls March 1, is expected to be different.
And the far-reaching decision on how to award delegates comes as several candidates with Texas ties — Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and Sen. Rand Paul, son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul — could be on the presidential ballot.
An estimated 11,000 delegates and alternates to the Republican Party of Texas state convention will determine how the votes will be parceled out to candidates.
During the convention, set for June 5-7 in Fort Worth, they will also hear from party leaders, approve rules guiding the party, take part in the straw poll and develop the party platform.
The ever-evolving platform, an outline of the party’s beliefs that candidates do not always follow, has drawn media attention in recent years for changing stances on immigration, which could be a key issue again this time.
“It will be interesting,” Munisteri said.
Throwback to 2012
Nominating rules were a big issue at the GOP’s last national convention, where some had hoped to support the candidate of their choice — rather than being bound by the choice that voters made in the primary — to bolster the chances of a presidential bid for Ron Paul.
A compromise was reached that dialed back those desires, as well as those from establishment Republicans to let presidential nominees choose the delegates to represent them at national conventions.
Munisteri was among those who went to work after that to help craft a set of new rules.
The proposed slate — which gives Texas and other states the right to determine how delegates are parceled out — was approved by the Republican National Committee during its winter meeting.
Now it’s time for Republicans attending the state convention to weigh in on the issue.
Delegates could choose a winner-take-all approach, giving all the state’s delegates to a candidate who wins at least 51 percent of the vote.
They could opt to allocate votes proportionally.
Or they could continue as they have, with a hybrid approach — allocating three delegates from each of the state’s three dozen congressional districts to the candidate with the most votes in each respective district and divvying up the rest statewide based on the votes cast.
“They can choose anything,” Munisteri said. “Texas has greater flexibility than it did in 2012.”
Delegate Jeremy Blosser of Arlington said he hasn’t heard a lot of people discussing what they’d like the delegate approach to be.
“I’m sure they will,” he said. “I kind of expect it will land the same place it has, … because that has been the compromise between different groups in the past.
“What we do now tends to work reasonably well.”
Tarrant County Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Hall said she believes this will be one of the hotter topics at the convention.
“What I’d like to see is the delegates and alternates really take part in this discussion,” she said. “This topic will get a lot of discussion.”
In 2012, Texas’ delegation was made up of 155 members — a number arrived at through a formula that factors in the number of Republican state and federal legislators and which party controls the Governor’s Mansion.
If Republicans hold on to statewide offices and both chambers of the Legislature, they could send a similar number of delegates to the convention in 2016.
Each convention, Republicans also work to update their party platform.
Immigration, a hot topic in 2012, could be a key issue again.
Two years ago, Texas delegates took a softer approach to illegal immigration through a plan known as the “Texas Solution,” calling for a temporary worker program as well as ways to secure the border.
The platform does still ask state lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration and bring Arizona-like immigration laws to Texas, particularly to make it a Class A misdemeanor for an undocumented worker to be in the state.
And it calls for penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, seeks to remove funding for cities with “sanctuary laws” and tries to eliminate day labor centers.
But delegates also called for a program to bring workers to the U.S. for a limited time when “no U.S. workers are currently available.”
The program would require participants to pay fees and fines, pass a criminal background check, prove they can afford private health insurance and waive rights to apply for public financial assistance.
Delegates added to the document support for illegal immigrants who have gone through the U.S. school system, graduated from high school and chosen to serve in the military.
“Immigration in the last several conventions has always been passionately discussed,” Munisteri said. “I don’t expect anything different this year.”
He expects delegates to choose one of three options: leave the immigration plank as it is, scrap it completely to eliminate the softer approach or slightly tweak the plan.
Delegate Adrian Murray of Fort Worth said there’s rumbling that some delegates might try to repeal the “Texas Solution.”
“That will set off a floor fight,” he said. “I do think it should stay the same.
“I think it would be a step backward to repeal it. It’s a much more sensible approach to immigration. You aren’t going to round all these people up and ship them back.”