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Cruz Delegates At Washington Convention Wrestle Over Trump

Dr. Esther Hunte wore a red Ted Cruz t-shirt to the Washington Republican Convention in Pasco Friday. She isn’t sure she can support the candidacy of her party’s apparent presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Her choices, as she sees them?

"Either leaving the presidential one blank or voting for a third party," Hunte said. "Depends on who's on the ballot."

Cruz t-shirts were the dominant attire among approximately 1,500 convention-goers gathered in a converted rodeo arena. There were plenty of cowboy hats and boots too, but instead of bull-riding and calf-roping the main event was to select 44 delegates to the national GOP convention in Cleveland this summer. Those delegates will be bound by the results of Washington’s presidential primary Tuesday.

Hunte, an evangelical Christian and a family doctor in Yakima, said she was not convinced Trump is "a moral man."

"I don’t think he's pro-life," Hunte said. "I know he’s wanting to shift more towards that, but he hasn’t convinced me of that."

Michelle Knutson has similar concerns, and expressed them in her delegate speech.

"Ted Cruz is the only candidate who I feel represents my conservative values and my religious beliefs," Knutson said, "and who best represents the Republican Party against the Democratic nominee in the general election."

Knutson added that she supports Trump—but not all Cruz supporters felt that way.

Hoping to block a nomination

Braedon Wilkerson of Olympia helped man the Cruz for President booth in the convention hallway. He wants to stop Trump’s ascent.

"He’s a racist and a bigot," Wilkerson said. "He’s authoritarian in nature."

Wilkerson is not comfortable with his options if Trump wins the nomination.

"I am now faced with a choice between the definition of a fascist, being Donald Trump," Wilkerson said, "and Hillary Clinton, someone that I think most conservatives would identify as a left-leaning progressive."

Even though Trump is the apparent Republican presidential nominee, Wilkerson hopes Cruz delegates can influence what happens in Cleveland this July.

"There will be plenty of people who are not wanting to support Donald Trump as a nominee," Wilkerson said. "If we can unbind delegates or if we can do our best to try to prevent a Donald Trump nomination, I think that there will be an appetite for that."

Calls for unity

For Trump supporters, this talk of trying to block or somehow undermine Trump’s nomination is concerning.

"I mean, Cruz has withdrawn," said Mary Fine, in a blue Trump t-shirt. "He's getting back into the senatorial campaign. I don’t understand. I mean, it’s time to step up and get on the Trump train, quite frankly."

Cruz supporters consistently say Trump isn’t a true conservative. To that, State Senator Don Benton said, “Get over that because he's going to be a conservative president.”

Benton, Trump's campaign chairman in Washington, recently shared a McDonald’s meal with Trump as they flew from Spokane to Bellingham aboard Trump’s Boeing 757.

"I am totally convinced he believes in the same principles that I believe in," Benton said at the convention. "A free spirit, a free America, free trade…he’s conservative in every aspect of the word."

U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse urged delegates Friday morning to hold fast to conservative bedrocks like a belief in god, the sanctity of life and the rule of law.

"If you’re elected to represent us, our local communities, at the national level in Cleveland, remember these values," Newhouse said in a speech. "Now more than ever, we must ensure that conservative principles are not forgotten by national politicians."

As the time came to select delegates to Cleveland, there were hints of unity in the making. Cruz supporter David Barnes of Spokane County said in his delegate speech he wasn’t going to give up on the principles his candidate stood for.

"I'd like to pick up that mantle and be that standard bearer in Cleveland."

But Barnes also said he would ultimately support the Republican nominee.

Angela Nguyen of Northwest Public Radio contributed to this report.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."