Maine's Tea Party governor says Cruz's 'political hooligans' are trying to hijack delegates
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz addresses a campaign rally after he received the endorsement of former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina in Miami, Florida March 9, 2016. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Paul LePage says ‘political hooligans’ of Cruz camp have reneged at last minute on unity deal in brazen bid to sweep all delegate slots at state convention

Ted Cruz’s campaign faced more allegations of dirty tricks after the Maine governor, Paul LePage, took to Facebook to condemn the Texas senator’s campaign as being run by “greedy political hooligans.”

The fiery and controversial governor claimed on Friday that the Trump and Cruz campaigns had previously reached a “unity deal” to elect delegates to the national convention in proportion to results of the Pine Tree state’s 5 March caucuses.

Such an allocation would deliver 12 Cruz delegates, nine for Trump and two for John Kasich, the Ohio governor.

However, LePage, a Trump supporter, said on the eve of Maine’s state convention that the Cruz campaign had reneged on the deal, believing they could fill all 21 delegate slots on the ballot. “I can’t stand by and watch as Cruz and the Republican establishment forcibly overrule the votes of Mainers who chose Trump and Kasich,” said LePage.

While delegates are bound on the first ballot according to the results of state primaries and caucuses, they are unbound on subsequent ballots if a contested convention occurs. Such votes would have nothing to do with the results from the states and be solely decided by the individual delegates.

The Guardian can confirm there was discussion of a unity slate in Maine; sources disagree on whether a deal was ever reached.

In his intervention, LePage used strikingly personal language to attack a Cruz campaign operative for “stabb[ing]us in the back”. It marks an escalation in rhetoric even as the campaign seeks to roll back Trump’s aggressive language and his use of the nickname “lyin’ Ted” for Cruz.

Earl Bierman, the state chair for the Cruz campaign, told the Guardian on Thursday night: “There had been a tentative agreement for a unity slate but that was with the understanding that Cruz’s campaign is grassroots.”

Bierman said that he had thought it was a good idea to avoid intra-party strife but grassroots Cruz supporters rebelled at the unity proposal and nixed it. “They just said no, we are not having it, they put forth their own slate,” said Bierman.

Trump has attacked Cruz for months over allegations of dirty tricks on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. The frontrunner has claimed Cruz engaged in “fraud” after the Cruz campaign shared a CNN story only minutes before the Iowa caucuses began that suggested Ben Carson might be dropping out. Instead, Carson later clarified he had been going home to do laundry.

Trump also attacked Cruz for using a mailer to shame potential caucus-goers into voting by showing their turnout record along with neighbors’. Although this tactic is perfectly legal and been backed by political science research, Trump has repeatedly condemned as dishonest.

The resulting controversy is likely to cause major political turmoil in Maine. While Cruz may have the majority of the delegates needed to elect their full slate, LePage is still the state’s sitting governor and has a reputation for retaliatory behavior in state politics. If the full Cruz slate is elected, LePage, who is running as a Trump delegate, will not be elected to represent the state he governs.

Both campaigns have sent top surrogates to the state, with former presidential candidates Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina appearing on behalf of Trump and Cruz respectively. It represents the next front in the ongoing complex battle to fill delegate slots and prepare for a contested convention.

Bierman said he was confused about why LePage was “crying foul”, nothing that in a proxy contest for RNC national committeeman, he himself had lost to state representative Alex Willette, a Trump supporter and close ally of LePage. Based on that result, the Trump campaign should be well placed to elect delegates at the state convention.

Bierman also pushed back at LePage’s attack on the Cruz campaign staffer, whom he described as honorable. He noted the national campaign had no involvement in any discussions on a unity deal. The Cruz campaign is “not telling grassroots in Maine what they can or can’t do”, said Bierman. Instead the grassroots supporters were giving the Cruz campaign marching orders.

So far, Cruz, whose campaign has long focused on delegate hunting has been at a distinct advantage over Trump. The frontrunner has only beefed up his delegate outreach in the past six weeks, bringing over a number of former operatives from the Carson campaign, led by the veteran strategist Ed Brookover as well as the longtime Republican insider Paul Manafort.