Cruz, Kasich pitch GOP leaders as contested convention looms

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Can Cruz Catch Up to Trump?

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich made dueling pitches to Republican National Committee members at the RNC's Spring Meeting on Wednesday, each seeking to lock down the support of a few more delegates in preparation for a possible contested convention.

The gathering of nearly 200 state party leaders and chairmen — all of whom will be delegates to the national convention in July — offers the candidates one of the biggest pots of potential backers they'll see over the course of the campaign.

SEE ALSO: Ted Cruz lashes out at Donald Trump after massive New York primary loss

And Cruz and Kasich's campaigns are banking that many will be, if not outright opposed to Donald Trump, at least more favorable to their campaigns.

Donald Trump's campaign is sending Ben Carson, as well as delegate manager Paul Manafort, political director Rick Wiley and a handful of operatives on his delegate team to the convention on Thursday.

But Cruz and Kasich's personal appearances at the meeting underscore how important wooing the group — many of whom may be bound to one candidate on the first ballot at the convention, but will be freed up on later ballots — could be to their chances at winning at a brokered convention.

Their support took on added significance for Cruz, who was mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright by his last-place finish in the New York primary Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press.

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Cruz, Kasich pitch GOP leaders as contested convention looms
Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz, left, and Don. R. Willett, right, leave the federal courthouse after a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2003, in Austin, Texas. Lawyers and federal judges met earlier to plan for the upcoming redistricting trial. Willett is deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Ted Cruz, from the Texas Attorney General's Office, speaks to members of the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, April 18, 2006, in Austin, Texas. Texas lawmakers embark on a 30-day special session to repair the state's method of paying for public education. Cruz explained the court rulings on school finance to the committee. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 21: Ted Cruz (R) Texas (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)
Texas US Senate Republican primary candidate Ted Cruz, left, talks with his father Rafael Cruz as he works at the campaign's phone bank, on election day, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Texas Republican Ted Cruz speaks to reporters Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Houston. Cruz placed second behind Lt. Gov. David Dewurst in a field of nine candidates in the Republican primary race for a U.S. Senate seat. Cruz and Dewhurst will square off in a second round of voting July 31. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
U.S. Senate Candidate Ted Cruz, right, has a discussion with David Dewhurst supporter Sherri Heinzman before the Texas Federation of Republican Woman luncheon during the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, June 8, 2012. Cruz is competing with Dewhurst for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. They face a runoff July 31 after no one in a crowded GOP field won a majority of the votes cast in last month's primary. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz arrives for a luncheon near the state Republican convention, Friday, June 8, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
U.S. Senate candidate candidate Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, wave to delegates after he spoke on the final day of the state Republican convention at the FWCC on Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, smiles as he listens to campaign chief consultant Jason Johnson go over election results as they come in, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Cruz was scheduled to speak on the scope of treaty power in the U.S. Constitution. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2014 file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Never mind dropping oil prices. U.S. producers are pushing harder than ever for the right to sell U.S. crude oil overseas. It might seem counterintuitive: Oil prices are as low as they have been at any point since 2009 and the height of the Great Recession. Depending on the projection, prices could drop further still with slowing economies across the world. Oil producers are playing a longer game, betting that long-term demand remains strong and new markets offer lucrative rewards for U.S. producers. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)
LYNCHBURG, VA - MARCH 23: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stands on stage his his daughter, Catherine Cruz, 4, left, his wife, Heidi Cruz, and his older sister, Caroline Cruz, 6, right, after he made a speech announcing his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on Monday March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, VA.(Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks as he campaigns Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

He acknowledged this to reporters at the Spring Meeting Wednesday, but insisted he'll have a "tremendous advantage" in a convention floor fight because he's more of a unifying figure than Trump.

"What is clear today is that we are headed to a contested convention. Nobody is able to reach 1,237," Cruz said, referencing the much-touted number for taking a majority of delegates.

"We're going to arrive in Cleveland with me having a ton of delegates and with Donald having a ton of delegates and at that point it is going to be a battle to see who can earn the support of a majority of the delegates elected by the people. I believe we will have a tremendous advantage in that battle because the party is unifying behind our campaign."

Kasich also framed himself as a unifier, telling reporters he was pitching himself to committee members as someone who can "win independents and be able to take this election to states that Republicans usually never go to," like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

But Cruz also took sharp aim at Kasich, calling him "an honorable and decent man who's only role in this election is as a spoiler," and speculating he may be running to be Trump's vice president. Kasich fired back, noting Cruz was now eliminated from an outright win and insisting: "I'm not running for anybody's vice president, man, I'm gonna be the nominee when all's said and done."

Related: What Is a Brokered Convention? GOP Rules Favor Trump

Trump's campaign has a tougher pitch to make, as their candidate has spent the last few weeks dismissing party leaders and the delegate system as "rigged" and "corrupt." Steve Duprey, New Hampshire's Republican committeeman, said he'd be interested to see how Trump's team planned to mend fences.

"It's not in his long-term interest to bash the bejeezus out of us," Duprey said.

Cruz and Kasich's appearances were just the start of the three-day meeting, and more intrigue is on the schedule for Thursday, when the RNC Permanent Rules Committee meets to consider changes to the rules governing the July convention.

At least one major change, to switch the rules governing the convention from U.S. House Rules to Robert's Rules of Order — which could make it tougher for establishment-minded Republicans to push through a preferred candidate on a later ballot — will be under consideration, but members of the committee don't expect that change to stick.

Indeed, a handful of RNC members, led by Chairman Reince Priebus, have been quietly lobbying committee members against advising any changes to the rules this week. On CNN on Sunday, Priebus warned against changing the rules because of the "politically charged environment" surrounding the nomination fight.

"I don't think that it's a good idea for us next week, I mean, before the convention to make serious rules changes or recommendations of changes right now," Priebus told CNN. "I think we're in a politically charged environment. I think it's too complicated."

Regardless, any rules changes adopted this week won't be binding — the Rules Committee at the convention has final say over the rules that govern the event.

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