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With Missouri's presidential primary out of the way, battle begins over who gets to be a delegate

Democratic National Convention 1876
Cornell University Collection of Political Americana

Donald Trump may have won Missouri’s Republican primary on March 15, but there’s no guarantee he’ll win the delegate war that’s about to get underway.

Later this week, both state parties will begin the three-tier caucus system that will be used to select most of the 84 Democratic delegates and 52 Republican delegates who will attend the parties’ presidential elections.

Delegates chosen through the caucus system, called “committed delegates,’’ must back a particular presidential candidate on the first round of balloting at the national convention to choose a nominee.

But unless a presidential campaign has staunch allies on the ground, there’s no guarantee that those committed delegates will stick with a particular candidate after the first round.

As it stands, Trump is to be awarded 37 Republican delegates from Missouri, and rival Ted Cruz is to get 15.  But some GOP insiders say Cruz has a stronger cadre of local allies who may seek to get some in his Missouri camp chosen as “Trump delegates,’’ who then could switch to Cruz after the first ballot, should Trump’s overall first-ballot tally fall short of the number needed to guarantee his nomination.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton —who won Missouri’s Democratic presidential party on March 15 — is guaranteed 37 committed delegates. Rival Bernie Sanders is to get 34. Because most of the state’s Democratic officials back Clinton, it’s assumed only her loyalists will be chosen as Clinton delegates.

How the caucus system will work

Missouri Democrats will hold a number of “mass meetings’’ on Thursday evening, while state Republicans will gather on Saturday. All attendees must register before showing up. (The Democratic mass-meeting locations can be found here, while the GOP sites are listed here.)

At those meetings, special delegates — who are not the presidential delegates — will be chosen to attend the second round of caucuses, which are held in each congressional district. The Democratic congressional caucuses will be April 28; the Republicans’ gatherings will be April 30.

A number of presidential delegates will be chosen at the congressional caucuses. The final blocs of delegates will be selected at the state Republican Party’s convention, set for May 21 in Branson, and the state Democratic convention, to be held June 18 at a site yet to be determined.

Missouri GOP executive director Jonathan Prouty said party leaders have put in place standardized rules so that there's no repeat of 2012, when partisans aligned with some presidential candidates attempted to take control of certain caucus sites, leading to chaos and even a few fist fights.

All told, 71 Democratic delegates will be chosen through the caucus system. An additional 13 are superdelegates. Most of them — such as Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill — hold the posts because of their elective offices. Such delegates are free to support the presidential candidate of their choice. As it stands, virtually all of Missouri’s superdelegates back Clinton.

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