- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - An intense, behind-the-scenes battle is under way as Massachusetts Republicans gear up to select delegates to the National Republican Convention.

The possibility that Republican front-runner Donald Trump will fail to win the nomination on a first ballot has the two remaining GOP presidential hopefuls - Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich - scrambling to line up delegates who would support them on a second vote.

On Saturday, Republicans will scatter across Massachusetts to elect 27 of the state’s 42 GOP delegates - three each in caucuses held in the state’s nine congressional districts.

The Trump campaign, caught off guard by the selection of delegates in other states, is vowing to take no chances in Massachusetts. The campaign has released a slate of 27 delegates and 27 alternates - all loyal Trump supporters- they hope to see elected.

Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl, co-chairman of the Trump effort in Massachusetts, said the campaign began identifying possible delegates after Trump won more than 49 percent of the GOP primary vote in Massachusetts - his biggest victory until New York.

“We went to work right at that point planning our caucus strategy,” Diehl said. “There was not a beat skipped transitioning from the primary to the delegates.”

Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said campaign supporters of the Ohio governor, who finished second in Massachusetts, are also drafting a slate of delegates.

“We were very fortunate to have a great support team leading up to the primary and a lot of that team has been actively helping us with that delegate process,” Kalmbach said. “We’re pretty confident we’ll be entering an open convention and we’re prepared for that.”

Only Republicans who were registered to vote by Feb. 10 may attend the caucuses. Anyone eligible to attend may also run to be a delegate.

The state’s top Republican won’t be attending.

“I would describe that as sort of a party activity,” Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters Friday. “I participated in it before, but at this point in time I’m going to focus on my day job.”

While Trump hopes to clinch the nomination a first vote, Cruz and Kasich are trying to gather enough loyal delegates to reach the magic tally of 1,237 on a subsequent vote.

On that first vote, 22 Massachusetts delegates are bound for Trump, eight for Kasich, eight for Marco Rubio - who has suspended his campaign - and four for Cruz.

The only confirmed delegates from Massachusetts so far are state party chair Kirsten Hughes, national committeeman Ron Kaufman and national committeewoman Chanel Prunier.

A final 12 at-large delegates will be elected by the Massachusetts Republican State Committee on May 25.

Baker also said he won’t be attending the Republican National Convention in Cleveland from July 18-21, noting that the convention comes near the end of the Legislature’s formal session.

“I fully expect that we’re going to all need to be around during that period,” Baker said.

Baker may still have some influence there. Fifty-one of 74 candidates endorsed by Baker won or kept their seats on the 80-member state committee.

Which candidate Baker prefers isn’t certain, although he’s said he’s not willing to vote for Trump, even if he emerges as the party’s nominee, and has reservations about Cruz.

He briefly endorsed Chris Christie before the New Jersey governor dropped out of the race.

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Online: https://www.massgop.com/caucus

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