Donald Trump may have the lead in the race for delegates to the GOP’s presidential nominating convention, but beyond that, little is certain in the battle.
One count puts Mr. Trump at 735 delegates, while another says he has 753 of the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination on the first ballot.
And the other Republican candidates — including those who have suspended their bids — are fighting to win or keep every last delegate, hoping to deny Mr. Trump a majority and force a convention-floor fight not seen in a generation.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Trump’s closest competitor, has outmaneuvered the billionaire businessman in Louisiana, North Dakota, Colorado and elsewhere, earning delegates by organization that he didn’t win at the ballot box.
In Louisiana Mr. Cruz trailed Mr. Trump in the March 5 primary but is poised to walk away with more delegates after he won the backing of delegates formerly assigned to Sen. Marco Rubio, as well as a batch of delegates that weren’t allocated during the primary.
Jeff Crouere, a talk radio host in New Orleans and a Trump delegate, said that the state’s arcane process of handing out delegates favored the party insiders backing the Cruz campaign, which was better organized ahead of the process, and said this phenomenon could have a “massive” and “huge” influence on the election by putting a dent in Mr. Trump’s chance of wrapping up the nomination before the convention.
“It could mean a tremendous amount,” said Mr. Crouere, 52. “If we are looking at something where it is very close and we got to a second ballot, all bets are off.
“A lot of the Trump people are loyal and will stick with him, but a lot of the party regulars, people that are not tied to him, I have no faith in that they would go with Trump,” he said.
Mr. Cruz’s delegates in Louisiana also won a majority of the spots on powerful convention committees that vote on the rules, which could pay big dividends if the contest moves beyond the first ballot.
Mr. Trump initially said he might sue, then backed away from that kind of talk. But he said it seemed unfair he won the state’s voters but didn’t get more delegates.
“I call it bad politics,” Mr. Trump said at a CNN-sponsored town hall last week in Milwaukee. “When somebody goes in and wins the election and gets less delegates than the guy that lost, I don’t think that’s right.”
Mr. Trump isn’t the only one studying the results board. Candidates, analysts and party leaders are all trying to figure out who’s won what delegates and which ones remain on the table. And the varied public counts show just how much uncertainty there is.
Election trackers have various tallies, including TheGreenPapers.com, which puts Mr. Trump at 753, and Josh Putnam of the Frontloading HQ blog, which also tracks elections, puts Mr. Trump at 751.
NBC News has him at 750, while the Republican National Committee has him at 749. Bloomberg has him at 737, as does The Associated Press, and the latest New York Times tally puts him at 735.
“The differing delegate counts are more a function of some outlets making calls in close races, particularly on the congressional district level. Some have allocated delegates while others have not,” Mr. Putnam said.
“The biggest driver of the difference is that Missouri has not been called for the purposes of allocation. Those 12 statewide delegates are not being allocated by the AP, for instance. I’ve gone ahead and given those to Trump,” he said.
Things are about to get even messier in Pennsylvania, which votes April 26. Most of the delegates there are directly elected by voters and, once elected, can decide on their own whom to support. Plus, the state’s chairman and two members of the Republican National Committee are only bound to support the winner of the primary on the first ballot.
“At this point I have not decided,” said Pennsylvania GOP Chairman Rob Gleason. “I want to win in November, so I will support the candidate that has the best chance of defeating Hillary Clinton.”
It marks a bit of a break in tradition for Mr. Gleason. He endorsed Mitt Romney before the state’s primary in 2012, days after former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania dropped out of the race. Mr. Gleason also endorsed Sen. John McCain in 2008 a month before he wrapped up the nomination.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, Mr. Rubio is fighting to keep his delegates rather than let them realign with the three remaining active candidates.
Some analysts had said that under the state GOP’s rules, a candidate who’s dropped out of the race loses his delegates. But Mr. Rubio said he’s merely suspended his campaign and asked the state GOP to let him keep the five delegates he won there.
Had he lost his delegates, they would have been reassigned based on the caucuses, and Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz would each have earned 14 overall after splitting up the Rubio delegates.
But the Alaska GOP said lawyers at the RNC told them the decision was theirs to make, and they left the scoreboard unchanged, with Mr. Cruz holding 12 delegates, Mr. Trump claiming 11 and Mr. Rubio still keeping five.
Mr. Putnam, of the Frontloading HQ blog, said the Trump camp could try to challenge that decision at the July convention.
“There is nothing in the [Alaska GOP] rules covering this sort of situation,” he said.
The Trump camp did not respond to a request for comment over the Alaska ruling.