Technically, no Republican presidential candidate won North Dakota. Cruz's campaign identified 18 supporters among the 25 delegates who won slots at the state convention in Fargo. But the delegates are not required to support Cruz or any other candidate.
To get elected, the delegates endured a weekend of buttonholing and lobbying from the three remaining GOP presidential candidates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich dispatched former senator Gordon Humphrey (N.H.) to supplement his small team of delegate-hunters. Cruz spoke in person, and counted on defeated candidate Carly Fiorina -- who remains popular with conservatives -- to talk to delegates one on one. Trump sent retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who shook off his often-stated unease about the man he'd endorsed and told the audience that nominating the mogul was "about who can win.”
Each advocate had one goal: to get as many identified supporters as possible elected as delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. By Monday, the deadline, 105 people had applied to be national convention delegates. On Friday and Saturday, an internal party committee graded those applicants on a series of party loyalty tests. That led to a ranked ballot of 74 names, with the top 25 scoring the highest party recommendation. The job of selecting the winners, finally, went to the nearly 2,000 state delegates.
The top 25 of that recommended list included 11 of the people whom Cruz's campaign had identified as supporters. On Sunday, the Cruz team distributed a fuller list of 23 people who, if sent to the convention, would back the Texan.
When the votes were counted -- each delegate could vote for any 25 people -- eighteen of the Cruz supporters had made it through. The campaign distributed a flier to reporters in Fargo, leaving it to the media -- and not the party itself -- to declare a winner.
Yet as Politico's Shane Goldmacher reported over the weekend, not everyone listed on the Cruz "slate" was willing to commit to supporting the senator. Jim Poolman, Dick Dever and John Traynor told Goldmacher that their support was soft or conditional. All three men appeared on the Cruz campaign's victory list.
In reality, nothing they said, and no list they appeared on, bound any of the delegates to a choice at July's convention. State delegates defeated a measure that would have compelled the national delegates to declare who they were voting for. It failed in a vote of 611 in favor, 748 opposed, and had it passed, it would have had no legal bearing.
But if Cruz's strength was hard to measure, Trump's was simple. His campaign celebrated the North Dakota's GOP list, which seemed to include a good number of allies and persuadable voters. Several of those people lost out to the voters preferred by Cruz. On Twitter, the Texan's senior communications advisor Jason Miller mocked the "imploding Trump campaign" for only having one obvious supporter in the final slate.
Before the delegate vote, Trump won the surprise endorsement of Rep. Kevin Cramer, the state's sole representative in the House. But Cramer did not seek a delegate slot, telling The Washington Post this weekend that he wanted "someone else to have the chance."