Who Gets Marco Rubio’s Delegates?

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Marco Rubio, here campaigning in Florida, is likely to lost his home state and suspend his campaign. (Getty)

With Florida called within minutes for Donald Trump, Florida native and Senator Marco Rubio has suspended his campaign. Without a true mathematical path to the nomination, his only hope was to deny Trump a delegate majority and come away the leader at the convention, a very doubtful proposition after failing to carry his home state. With Rubio’s dropping out, though, what would happen to the 163 delegates Rubio picked up through small-state wins and strong early showings?

Delegates from a dropped-out candidate become free to elect the candidate of their choice at the convention. However, there’s a significant difference between “suspending” and formally ending a campaign in a contested convention, in that the candidate can re-enter the race and reclaim his delegates. If Trump fails to secure the nomination on the primary trail, Rubio could re-activate his campaign and reclaim his delegates.

Here’s what you need to know:


Dropped Delegates Become Free Agents

When a candidate drops out of the race, any delegates he picked up along the race become “unbound,” and are essentially free to vote for the candidate of their choice at the convention. This means that, should Trump fail to seize a majority of delegates, the 163 “free agents” would wield significant power at the convention, as they represent more than 13% of the 1,237 needed for a majority.

Should Rubio drop out, though, this is cold comfort for establishment Republicans. As hard as they’ve worked to stop Trump, they don’t have much more regard for runner-up Ted Cruz. Ohio governor John Kasich may be an appealing alternative, but with only a possible win in his home state, he’s unlikely to seize momentum, and has his own problem of staying in the race. Rubio’s campaign advisor Avik Roy, for his part, has thrown his support behind Cruz:

Suspension vs. Dropping Out: a Critical Distinction

Most candidates suspend a campaign rather than dropping out completely, two terms which are synonymous in common use but differ substantially by the law. This is typically a financial distinction, as suspending a campaign allows a candidate to continue to raise money, a very important capability in that losing candidates almost always end up in debt.

Should the race go to the convention, however, an even more important distinction comes into play. Suspended candidates retain their delegates, meaning that Rubio could re-enter the race with at least 10% through the first three ballots. Even if he doesn’t decide to chase the nomination after previously bowing out, Rubio’s influence on his delegates could make him broker of an enormously influential deal.