Donald Trump holds a news conference at his hotel which is under construction in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

Colorado loss reveals chaotic, overwhelmed Trump campaign

Updated

ARVADA, Colo. — Colorado is not going well for Donald Trump.

After a shake-up at the top this week in which Trump empowered Paul Manafort to manage the campaign’s troubled delegate operation, Sen. Ted Cruz swept a third straight Congressional District convention Thursday night. All three of the delegates selected by local party members were listed on a slate put forward by the Cruz campaign. Four more districts choose delegates on Friday and another 13 are up for grabs at the state convention on Saturday.  

Trump aides concede that Colorado is not a promising state, but the level of disorganization at Thursday’s event suggested problems that ran deeper than the top-line results.

Addressing the audience, Trump’s new Colorado state director Patrick Davis told supporters to vote for the three pro-Trump delegate candidates on a glossy brochure the campaign distributed.

“Look for them on the back when you vote Donald Trump!” Davis said. “He’s going to make America great again!”

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There was only one problem: Two of the three names weren’t listed on the ballot.

“That’s a good question,” Davis told reporters after his speech when asked why they were left off.

There were, however, three pro-Trump delegates on the ballot who weren’t sanctioned by the campaign. One of them, Cully Marshall, made his case for Trump in a poem.

“He’s our only hope against Hillary, that lying crooked witch,” Marshall said. “He’s going to build that wall and make Hillary El Chapo’s personal…” He trailed off.

After some digging, Davis returned with a solution to the mystery of the missing delegates. One of the delegates had failed to pay the necessary fee to get on the ballot. He assumed the other was left off for similar reasons.

“Administrative error,” he said.

To be fair to Davis, who is a veteran operative in the state, he didn’t have much time to get the campaign up to speed. He only joined Tuesday, right as a Trump aide assigned to the state, James Baker, was let go by the campaign. By the time he showed up for work, Cruz had already swept the six delegates in two Congressional District convention sover the last week.

In some ways, Thursday’s performance was an improvement: The campaign didn’t even distribute brochures with delegate slates in those two events.

“Honestly, we didn’t have this level of sophistication last weekend,” Davis said, explaining the previous lack of flyers. “Had we, it might have been a different result.”

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Helbis Varangot, the one official Trump backer on the ballot for delegate, had plenty of complaints about the way the campaign handled the run-up to the event.

“They haven’t been here in Colorado,” she said. “[Baker] disappointed all of us. He didn’t do what he was supposed to do so he got fired. He told the campaign he was organizing, he never set foot in Colorado as far as I can tell.”

A source close to the campaign said Baker, who was also working on efforts in other states, was in Colorado at the time of his firing.

The Cruz campaign, in stark contrast to Trump’s operation, showed up ready to roll with a slate of six favored supporters, three delegates and three alternates.

Regina Thomson, Cruz’s grassroots director in the state, said she began organizing for the campaign eight months ago in anticipation of the convention and helped secure delegates to the state and district conventions at the March 1 caucuses.

“The process is what the process is — seeking out supporters, getting people to attend caucuses, texts, emails, one-on-ones,” she said.

Cruz’s state effort was driven entirely by volunteers, but the campaign used robo-polls to identify prospective supporters for its delegate slate. Cruz will address the state convention in person on Saturday.

Advisers to Trump argue that the lack of focus on Colorado is a strategic decision, given that the state’s political lean and complicated convention process favors Cruz.

“If we get a delegate number higher than zero it will be a success,” Alan Cobb, a Trump adviser focused on delegate strategy, told NBC News. “It’s just not a good state for us.”

The campaign changed its schedule this week to cut out a planned appearance by Trump in Colorado in order to focus on padding delegate margin in states like New York, which votes April 19, and neighboring states like Connecticut and New Jersey.

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“We’re trying to make an effort commensurate with what we expect to get out of here,” Cobb said of Colorado.

The Kasich campaign had a visible presence on Thursday and Andrew Boucher, a chief convention strategist, addressed the crowd on his behalf. Kasich supporter John Sununu is touring the state as well.

“Cruz and Kasich have been incredibly visible, especially in the last 10 days,” Colorado GOP chairman Steve House said. “The Trump campaign, not nearly as much.”

Donald Trump

Colorado loss reveals chaotic, overwhelmed Trump campaign

Updated