- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The threat of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas deploying double-agent delegates to win a contested Republican convention this summer has Donald Trump supporters in Maryland suspiciously eyeing the state’s delegate list and finding potential traitors on the ballot.

A top suspect is Joeylynn Hough, a Trump delegate who is the wife of state Sen. Michael Hough.

Mr. Hough is a Cruz delegate and serves as chairman of the Cruz campaign in Maryland.

“I’m suspicious of her,” said conservative activist Sue Payne, a Trump supporter who lives in Washington’s Maryland suburbs. “I and others are very suspicious about who is representing Trump. He’s being ill-served by this group in Maryland.”

Concerns have spread across the country that the Cruz campaign is gaming the rules and recruiting double-agent delegates who are bound to the front-running Mr. Trump but loyal to Mr. Cruz and ready to switch allegiance if the nomination in July goes to multiple ballots.

The strategy was bolstered by the #NeverTrump effort as the Republican Party establishment threw support behind Mr. Cruz as their last hope to stop the billionaire businessman from securing the nomination before Cleveland.

The fear is acute in Maryland, whose voters go to the polls Tuesday. The state’s Republicans are in the unusual position this year of casting primary votes that could matter.

Maryland’s small size and late primary typically render it inconsequential in picking the party’s presidential nominee. But this year, every state and every delegate matters, with the hunt still hot for the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination.

Mr. Trump is expected to win the majority of Maryland’s 38 delegates. He leads with 41 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 26 percent and Mr. Cruz at 24 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls in the state.

Maryland is one of five Northeastern states, also including Pennsylvania and Connecticut, that Mr. Trump is expected to sweep next week.

Maryland awards 24 delegates by congressional district. A list of delegates appears on the ballot next to the names of the candidates they endorse, but the delegates are bound to the winner of the district regardless of the endorsement.

Another 11 at-large delegates will be selected at the party’s state convention in May. These delegates are bound to the statewide winner, as are the three Republican National Committee members from Maryland who will be sent as delegates to the convention in Cleveland.

All of Maryland’s delegates are bound for the first two ballots at the convention but then are free to vote for whomever they want.

Some Trump supporters in Maryland blamed any potential delegate subterfuge on the disorganization of the campaign at the state level, echoing a recurring criticism of the campaign’s ground game since the first contest in Iowa.

“People in this state are disorganized,” said Ed Hunter, a tea party activist and Trump volunteer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “When I looked at the delegate sheet on the sample ballot, I saw only three Trump delegates, although he is the front-runner. And there were tons of Kasich people.”

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he was certain that 90 percent of Mr. Trump’s delegates on the ballot were true Trump supporters. But he said it is up to the Trump campaign to position loyalists among the 11 at-large delegates selected by the central committee.

“It’s an insider’s game when it comes to electing people to go to the national convention,” Mr. Cluster said. “If he isn’t coming and taking an active role in our state convention and pushing a team and saying, ‘Hey, these are the people I want you to elect,’ then there is a distinct possibility that people are going to get elected that may not be loyal to him.”

Mr. Trump has moved aggressively to fine-tune the campaign’s delegate strategy, including hiring veteran Republican operatives to manage the process.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said it is up to the Republican voters in Maryland to select the delegates.

Mrs. Hough fiercely defended her allegiance to Mr. Trump, and state Republican Party officials backed her up.

“I understand their concerns, but she’s the one putting all the yard signs out. She’s the one doing everything. She’s a rabid Trump supporter,” said Mr. Cluster.

Yet Trump supporters see subtle clues of deception, including Mr. and Mrs. Hough providing different mailing addresses for the State Board of Elections’ list of delegates.

They provide the same street address but give different cities in Maryland’s Frederick County. Mr. Hough uses Brunswick; Mrs. Hough uses Knoxville.

“Those are conspiracy theories at this point,” said Mrs. Hough. “We live in the same house. We share the same children. We may not share the same views, but whether it’s Brunswick or Knoxville, it’s the same place.”

The ZIP code corresponds with Knoxville.

Mrs. Hough said she and her husband routinely use different cities when giving their address. She also blamed the U.S. Postal Service and the State Board of Elections for the mix-up on the delegate list.

“I am a loyal Trump supporter, and I am a strong, independent, smart woman with a mind of my own,” said Mrs. Hough. “It really doesn’t matter what people think. He is not going to convince me to get on Cruz’s side, and I’m not going to convince my husband to get on Trump’s side. We have mutual respect for one another, and that is really the end of it.”

She vowed to stay loyal to Mr. Trump even if the convention goes beyond two ballots, which under Maryland Republican Party rules is when she would become an unbound delegate.

“I will support Donald Trump until Donald Trump releases me as his delegate,” said Mrs. Hough.

Joe Collins Jr., a state Republican Party Central Committee member from Baltimore who helped vet Mr. Trump’s delegates, vouched for Mrs. Hough.

“I understand why it comes up, but I can assure you it’s not true,” he said. “All our delegates have been hand-selected for who they are, what they believe in and who they are with. We went through them with a fine-tooth comb.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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