- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - If there is a fight at the Republican Party convention this summer over who will be the presidential nominee, Wisconsin’s delegates may find themselves on the sidelines.

That’s because unlike in other states, Wisconsin Republican Party rules make it difficult for the 42 delegates to break from supporting the candidate they are pledged to back.

While Donald Trump is in the lead nationally, he may not win the required 1,237 delegates before the July convention to secure the nomination. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are counting on siphoning off enough delegates to prevent Trump from getting a majority, which would set up a contested convention where the nominee could be someone other than Trump.

Wisconsin is likely to become a focus for the three remaining Republican candidates starting next week, after primaries on Tuesday in Arizona and Utah.

There are 42 delegates at stake in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary, a fraction of the 2,472 who will gather in Cleveland for the convention. The statewide winner will be awarded 18, and the victor in each of the state’s eight congressional districts getting three delegates each.

Trump himself hinted at the unrest that could come if he enters the convention with the most delegates but is denied the nomination. “I think you’d have riots,” he said Wednesday on CNN.

Brandon Scholz, a longtime Wisconsin Republican operative who served as a delegate at the 1996 national convention, said he hopes the party figures out a way to avoid a fight in Cleveland. Scholz said he thinks if Trump enters the convention with close to the required 1,237 delegates, he will emerge as the nominee.

“I don’t think that there’s great value for the Republican Party to have a nasty, nasty shoot ‘em up Wild West convention,” Scholz said. “Bloody noses on the convention floor aren’t going to do anybody any good.”

Scholz hasn’t endorsed anyone this year, but there is a strong anti-Trump contingent among some Republican power brokers in Wisconsin, including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. Others with influence in the party, including Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson, have tried to stay out of the fray for now, saying they will support whoever is the nominee.

Under Wisconsin state party rules, the delegates must support their candidate unless that person releases them. They can also support someone else if their candidate does not receive at least one-third of the total votes cast in any vote for the nomination.

That’s not the case in other states, where delegates would become free agents able to support another candidate after the first round of voting. Also, Wisconsin delegates are required to file affidavits with the state Republican Party promising to abide by the rules. It’s unclear what the penalty would be for violating them.

There could be a strong incentive for some Wisconsin delegates to bolt from their pledged candidate if native son and House Speaker Paul Ryan emerges as an alternative to Trump. Ryan attempted to quash talk of that on Wednesday, even though former Speaker John Boehner said he would support such a move.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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