Getting to next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland has become more of a burden than some delegates were expecting. For one thing, some of them had no idea they’d be on the hook for the whole cost of casting a vote for their candidate.
One such delegate is Rita Gaus, who lives out among the cornfields and wind turbines about two hours south of Chicago in Buckingham, Ill. Gaus and her husband are dog breeders, something that started out as a hobby, but has turned into a full time gig on their family farm.
Until Donald J. Trump came along, there had never really been much room for— or interest in — politics in Gaus’ life.
Intrigued by the candidate, Gaus connected with a couple of Trump Facebook groups and, to her surprise, someone on the Trump campaign reached out and asked her to be a delegate ahead of the March 15 Illinois primary.
She wasn’t entirely sure what she was signing up for.
‘Wait A Minute …’
I asked … ‘What’s involved?’ and they said, ‘Well, you just get to vote,’ and I’m like, OK, I can do that. They didn’t say that vote costs you five grand!” Gaus said, laughing.
While Gaus’ estimate might be a little high, being an RNC delegate in Cleveland isn’t cheap. Illinois delegates are looking at more than $300 a night for hotels, plus a $600 flat fee for food and transportation to and from the convention, not to mention flights, gas, parking or any other costs.
Maria Hough was one of many first-time delegates who say they had no idea they’d have to spend all that money to get to Cleveland to vote for Trump.
“Oh my gosh,” Hough said. “I was like, wait a minute, I’ve gotta pay to go vote for my man?”
It’s a scene that played out many times around Illinois last fall. People completely new to politics called the Trump campaign looking for hats or signs and ended up as delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Casting A Wide Net
“The traditional Chicago political joke is we don’t want nobody, nobody sent, and frankly these are the nobodies that nobodies sent,” said Kent Gray, an attorney who helped the Trump campaign find potential delegates in Illinois.
Typically, convention delegates are a mix of congressmen, party leaders or other elected officials who have access to campaign accounts to cover these costs.
But this year, some of Illinois’ top Republicans, like Sen. Mark Kirk, opted to skip the convention because they don’t support Donald Trump.
Kirk originally said he’d support the Republican Party nominee, but later issued a statement saying that Trump “has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.” Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will also be skipping the convention, much to the dismay of some delegates.
When the Trump campaign went looking for other Illinois delegates, it cast a wide net.
“I had some that I had to make sure they were still registered to vote or they had to get, they had moved and we had to make sure they had re-registered to vote,” he said.
To cut costs, some delegates are getting creative: They’re bunking together in hotels or carpooling, even if they don’t know each other.
At least six Illinois delegates have launched GoFundMe pages, but only with minimal success. One delegate who’s on disability is planning to put the whole trip on his credit card — and figures he’ll be in debt for years.
But regardless of the costs, many of these first-timers aren’t deterred. Maria Hough says casting her vote for Trump will be part of history.
“I really, really believe in him so, I just wanna make sure nobody’s gonna mess with him. If my little vote counts, my God, I’ve gotta be there to do it,” Hough said.
But beyond casting that one vote, many delegates still aren’t quite sure what else they’re in for.