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Scenes from a cigar factory: Republican delegate selection in South Florida

This Saturday I observed the Republican convention delegation selection meeting for South Florida.

The party leadership of five congressional districts met to interview people who applied for three delegate slots per district and then select the three delegates. The interviewers consisted of three party officials from each county in a congressional district, so the selection committee ranged from three to 12 members.

Where was the proverbial smoke-filled room? Inside an actual cigar factory, provided as a meeting site by a state representative. It is located in an industrial park in Hialeah, a largely Latino suburb of Miami.

The cigar factory where convention delegates were selected. (Gregory Koger)

The interviews and delegate selection occurred in a small conference room outside of public view — including mine. I did spend time talking to the applicants, though, and they were a fascinating cross section of party activists. There were several pro-Trump applicants, but the more prominent theme was not candidate preference but party service.

Virtually every applicant had some record of party service, whether working on an occasional campaign, running as a candidate, or actually holding a position in the party organization. The Donald Trump supporters I talked to tended to have comparatively shorter political résumés, many getting involved over the past four to six years, while the party operatives and long-term activists tended to prefer other candidates.

As screening questions, the 150 applicants for 15 slots were asked if they could afford to attend the convention and if they were willing to vote for Trump. As of now, Florida delegates are required to vote for the plurality winner of the state primary, one Donald J. Trump, for the first three ballots at the convention.

The protest

In anticipation of a slate of delegates who were hostile or indifferent to Trump, about 20 Trump supporters protested the meeting from across the street.

The preemptive Trump protest, chanting "99 for Trump." (Gregory Koger)

The protest was organized by the chair of the Trump campaign in Broward County, Dolly T. Rump, who was rejected the previous weekend as a convention delegate. When I went to talk with them, I found the Trump supporters were open and welcoming to strangers, and willing to share the scant remains of their lunch. Even though Florida delegates are bound, the Trump supporters worried about how they would vote if the rules change or if the balloting continues beyond three ballots.

The final list of delegates, as in other areas of the state, favored party insiders rather than Trump supporters. In one district, two of three delegates were the party officials conducting the interviews, while the third is a Rubio ally.