Texas Sen. Ted Cruz collected the overwhelming majority of Maine's Republican delegates during the state's GOP convention Saturday.
Cruz collected 19 of the 20 spots up for grabs, with the 20th spot going to Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who's supporting GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
The fight at the state's convention Saturday underscores the intense battle for delegates heading into the Republican National Convention in July. Cruz's campaign is pushing for every delegate it can collect to prevent Trump from winning the 1,237 he needs to win the nomination outright and force a floor fight. Even with Saturday's developments, both Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich need to win more delegates than are available in the remaining primary contests to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot.
Ahead of the vote, LePage accused the Cruz campaign of going back on a promise to back a "unity slate" of the state's delegates, a move he portrayed as "stabbing us in the back."
In a statement, LePage said, "We reached a deal with Cruz's national campaign to put up a unity slate that would honor the wishes of the thousands of Mainers who voted at caucus. But Cruz's Northeast Political Director David Sawyer lied to us and broke the deal. Sawyer stabbed us in the back, reneged on the unity slate, and betrayed the people of Maine."
Though he singled out Sawyer in his statement, LePage said the actions were emblematic of the Cruz campaign. "As we have seen throughout the country, Cruz's national campaign is run by greedy political hoooligans."
Cruz's campaign dismissed LePage's criticism since he had already backed the real estate mogul.
"It's no surprise Gov. LePage stands with Donald Trump, he endorsed Donald Trump," said Alice Stewart, Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President. "And Ted Cruz stands with the grassroots, who made our caucus victory in Maine possible. Cruz will always defend the interests of the people who elected him over the will of establishment politicians."
Josh Dunlap, a Cruz delegate from first congressional district, disputed the idea that the Cruz camp had agreed to a unity slate idea.
"There's been a lot of misinformation handed out that -- in fact, there was no final agreement. We had a consistent Cruz slate that we've always been backing and continue to back, and so unfortunately there's been some misinformation, but the Cruz slate has remained the same," Dunlap told CNN.
According to aides from both the Kasich and the Trump camps at the convention, all three campaigns had mutually agreed to a slate of delegates -- called a "unity ticket" -- with the help of LePage and state party officials prior to voting at the convention.
For the unity ticket, the campaigns had agreed that the delegates sent to the national convention should be actual supporters of the candidates they were awarded to, based on the results of the March 5 caucuses, and so each candidate's slots -- in Maine, 12 for Cruz, nine for Trump, and two for Kasich -- should be filled with people selected by their campaign.
"The Unity Slate I think is strong," former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, a Kasich backer, told CNN. "The Kasich campaign certainly supports it."
Sununu reiterated his push for the unity ticket during a speech to the full convention.
"Who is the nominee who will beat Hillary Clinton in November? I leave you with a simple request: think about that as you choose the delegates, support that unity ticket, because Maine Republican unity means Republican victory," Sununu said.
In addition to making for a largely painless delegate slate vote, this would prevent the election of "faithless delegates" who would flip their vote after the first ballot, when delegates are bound, during the presidential nominating process -- a scenario the Trump campaign fears.
Proponents of the unity ticket distributed their slate on a sheet of paper with the message, "The presidential campaigns have reached an agreement to recognize the will of the voters and the results of the March 5th Republican Caucuses, by producing a UNITY TICKET that includes a fair distribution of supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz, Mr. Donald J. Trump, and Gov. John R. Kasich for Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio."
Despite opposition from the Cruz team, Gov. LePage was elected on Saturday as a delegate to the national convention from the first congressional district. But the other five congressional district delegate slots were won by individuals listed on the Cruz slate, portending trouble for the unity ticket in the voting for at-large delegates.
LePage had said Friday that the Cruz team was working to remove the governor from Maine's delegation to the national convention, according to a report in the Lewiston Sun-Journal. LePage, who along with his wife is running for a slot as a Trump delegate, would normally have been awarded the slot as a courtesy to the governor.
Ben Carson, a former 2016 candidate, was a speaker at the state convention Friday night and discussed the roiling dispute with reporters.
Saying "of course" LePage should be one of Maine's delegates, Carson added, "What we have to recognize is that right now, the reason that the populists are so upset is they feel that they can't trust government, can't trust political parties -- the last thing we need to be doing is engaging in subterfuge and things that aren't transparent, and utilizing tricks and saying, 'well this is the rules.'"
"Whether they are the rules or not, we need to be sensitive to the perception of the populists. And we need to be doing things in an open and fair way."