Seeking to quell questions about the strength of his political organization, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's campaign announced Thursday that political veteran Paul Manafort will oversee all of the candidate's delegate operations and strategy heading into what will likely be a contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
"The nomination process has reached a point that requires someone familiar with the complexities involved in the final stages," Trump said in a statement. "I am organizing these responsibilities under someone who has done this job successfully in many campaigns."
The announcement came after weeks of a growing anxiousness within the campaign that Trump's close team of advisers was unprepared to deal with the final stages of the Republican primary. Before Trump promoted Manafort, his delegate operation had been overseen by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who has been under fire in recent weeks after being charged with simple battery for grabbing a reporter at a Trump campaign event. Trump has said Lewandowski is innocent of the charge.
The shake-up comes as Colorado's Republican Party is set to choose 13 national delegates this weekend, and Trump's leading challenger, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is expected to dominate that slate. Trump has announced no plans to attend the state convention on Saturday.
Trump also faces delegate troubles in Arizona, where the Cruz-leaning slate must vote for Trump on the first ballot but will likely favor Cruz on subsequent ballots. In Wyoming, where Cruz claimed nine of the 12 delegates in last month's county conventions, the Texas senator could pick up the majority of the additional 14 elected at the state convention next weekend.
Trump leads Cruz by 226 delegates and 1.9 million votes, and should do well in the upcoming primary contests held in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for Trump to clinch the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination outright and avoid a contested convention. Various Republican establishment forces, including those inside the Cruz campaign, are working to prevent the billionaire from gaining enough delegates.
Trump senior adviser Tana Goertz, who is in charge of getting Trump backers elected to all 12 national delegate slots that will be chosen in Iowa on Saturday, said she's confident "that the energy surrounding Mr. Trump's Iowa operation will be evident on Saturday."
Trump people will turn out to vote for the Trump slate of delegates at the this weekend's district convention, she said. "I am just once again blown away by the efforts to support Mr. Trump," Goertz said. "We are well positioned for Saturday."
Iowa Republicans will pick another 15 national delegates in late May. (Three slots automatically go to the party chair and two national committee representatives, for a total of 30.)
Fred Doucette, co-chairman of Trump's New Hampshire campaign, said he was already working with the Trump campaign chairs in Maine and Massachusetts to elect delegates who are supportive of Trump. Both states hold their conventions in the coming weeks.
"I get the impression that the campaign headquarters is looking to strengthen their delegate operation, and fast. We're tuning up our machine," said Doucette, who is also a Republican state representative.
"The establishment thought they were going to be able to steal this from us, no problem," Doucette added. "Well, that's not the case. If they do, they'll suffer the backlash: They are going have a sh-- show on their hands of epic proportions."