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.
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.
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."
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.