Maine Republicans will gather in Bangor this weekend to choose the 23 delegates to represent the state at a national Republican convention in Cleveland that is shaping up to be a historic political slugfest.

The delegates are bound by Maine Republican Party rules to honor the results of the state Republican caucus in March when Ted Cruz won 12 delegates, Donald Trump won nine and John Kasich won two.

But loyalty to the caucus results may not last once the delegates cast ballots in Cleveland, where a battle looms between Donald Trump, who leads in the national delegate count, and party insiders who are determined to block his nomination. While chaos may be lurking in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, the chairman of the Maine Republican Party hopes the Maine convention that begins Friday will be the unity event that eluded the party four years ago.

“Knock on wood, but we think it will,” said party Chairman Rick Bennett.

Bennett and the party believe the odds are in their favor. Unlike four years ago when supporters of libertarian candidate Ron Paul took over a state convention that eventually descended into chaos, the fight over the apportionment of delegates who will help select the Republican presidential nominee is all but over. That’s because the party changed its rules to ensure that the state’s 23 delegates are bound to the March caucus results – at least in the early going.

So Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who won nearly all of the state’s sixteen counties, is assured of 12 Maine delegates on the first ballot at the national convention, but those delegates could switch candidates afterward. The same goes for front-runner Donald Trump’s nine delegates and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s two.

What remains is the election of delegates to represent each candidate. That will take place early Friday after the convention kicks off at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Twenty delegate seats are up for grabs. Three – a national committeeman, committeewoman and Bennett – have already been selected. Roughly 200 Maine Republicans are vying for the 20 spots.

IN OHIO, THE POSSIBILITY OF MAYHEM

What happens in Cleveland on July 18-21 is a matter of widespread speculation and, for many Republicans, concern.

Law enforcement officials there have asked to use a $50 million security grant to purchase riot gear. While crowd control concerns are routine at party conventions, Trump’s unforeseen domination of the campaign and the fierce resistance to his victory by traditional party power brokers has created the possibility of mayhem. Looming is the prospect of a contested, or brokered, convention as anti-Trump forces work to wrest the nomination from him. Trump has said there could be riots if he is denied the nomination after winning most of the state votes.

Unrest appears unlikely in Bangor, where Bennett and party officials are hoping that the convention can serve as an event to rally the party to defeat presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The party is featuring two former presidential candidates as speakers, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. Fiorina, who will speak Saturday morning, is now backing Cruz. Carson, who will address the convention Friday evening, has endorsed Trump.

“There’s a real sense of importance in the presidential contest this year,” Bennett said. “There’s a recognition that we cannot afford what would essentially be a third term for Barack Obama and real misgivings about Mrs. Clinton.”

Bennett acknowledged that the Republican candidates have thrown “sharp elbows” during the nomination contest, but activists “understand the gravity of this year.”

The intra-party contentiousness, however, continues to loom, if not acutely in Maine. A Republican presidential candidate must win 1,237 of the 2,472 total delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee. Once in Cleveland, convention delegates will vote repeatedly until one candidate gets 1,237. And, to further complicate the process, state parties have different rules for how many times their delegates are required to vote for the candidate they were elected to support.

In Maine, Republican delegates are bound to their candidate for the first ballot. After that they can switch their vote. In other words, a candidate bound to Trump now could vote for Cruz, Kasich or, depending on convention rules developed by the Republican National Committee, someone else after their first ballot is cast in Cleveland. The prospect of delegates changing their votes could set the stage for a competitive election on Friday, especially if the active presidential campaigns get involved.

MANY HAVE AIRED THEIR ALLEGIANCES

Gov. Paul LePage is among those vying to become a delegate. LePage has endorsed Trump and has repeatedly questioned whether Cruz, who was born in Canada, is eligible to be president. Cruz’s supporters counter that the senator is qualified because he was born to a U.S. citizen living abroad, making him a U.S. citizen.

LePage is a powerful figure within the party, but it’s unclear how involved he will be in shaping the selection of delegates.

Bennett said he did not have a breakdown of which candidates prospective delegates were supporting. But many delegates have declared their allegiances on the party’s website.

Christian Bishop of Litchfield wrote that he’s running as a Cruz delegate and “will not deviate.”

“As a lifelong Maine resident and business owner I have been frustrated with growing liberalism in Maine and our nation. As a conservative, I recognize our country is at a crossroads,” Bishop wrote.

Jim Azzola of Portland said he would vote for whom he is bound on the first ballot and his “conscience afterwards.”

Jim Cyr from Caribou has been active in the party since 2000. He wrote that he supported Trump and Cruz, but he vowed to stay with Trump if selected to represent him.

“He won my county and I’m not afraid of his nomination,” Cyr wrote. “I will reject any kind of shenanigans from the good old boys club, full stop.”

Nick Lapham, of Tenants Harbor, said the party was poised for its “greatest victory or its ugliest defeat.”

“We need a nominee who can win the presidency, and carry the Senate and House. Donald Trump is NOT able to do this,” wrote Lapham. “I will NOT vote for him. I WILL support any version of a Cruz-Kasich ticket. No one else deserves to be on the ballot.”

The convention begins shortly after 9 a.m. Friday and ends Saturday night following a keynote address by the governor. Republican members of the congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, are also expected to speak to the convention.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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