As Cruz closes gap, Trump accuses rival of buying votes
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's concerns about how delegates are allotted turned into a roar last night, as he accused Ted Cruz's campaign of buying votes after his weekend win in Colorado.
The New York billionaire amassed a delegate lead by winning many state contests, but his rival Mr Cruz has proved tenacious in pursuit of every last delegate available by other means in the hope of winning the nomination at a brokered Republican convention in July.
Mr Cruz's campaign has worked effectively in states where the delegate allocation process is more complex, such as Colorado, where the US senator from Texas picked up 34 delegates on Saturday at the state Republican convention.
"The people out there are going crazy, in the Denver area and Colorado itself," Mr Trump said on Fox News.
"They're going absolutely crazy because they weren't given a vote. This was given by politicians - it's a crooked deal," he added.
Mr Trump's camp has amplified complaints about the delegate allocation system, which varies from state to state, as the prospect of a contested Republican convention looks more likely to determine the party's nominee for the November 8 election.
A Republican candidate needs 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination and avoid a convention floor fight, which could involve several rounds of voting for delegates.
Mr Trump also accused Mr Cruz of trying to steal delegates in South Carolina, which Trump won. Mr Cruz came third in that state in February but won three delegates on Saturday at congressional district meetings, according to local media.
"Now they're trying to pick off those delegates one by one," Mr Trump said on Fox News. "That's not the way democracy is supposed to work. They offer them trips, they offer them all sorts of things and you're allowed to do that. You can buy all these votes. What kind of a system is that? ... It's a rigged system."
Mr Trump's new adviser on delegate matters, Paul Manafort, said on Sunday the campaign would protest at what he called Mr Cruz's "Gestapo tactics, the scorched-earth tactics" on delegates.
A tweet from the Colorado Republican Party appeared to briefly verify Mr Trump's fears that state party officials favoured Mr Cruz. After Saturday's results, the party tweeted, "We did it. #NeverTrump," the 'Denver Post' reported.
The party then deleted the tweet, which it said was unauthorised, and confirmed it was investigating.
Colorado Republicans defended their voting process on Twitter, retweeting a post by commentator Ari Armstrong who called the system "representative".
"Claiming delegates were 'stolen' insults the Republicans who participated," Mr Armstrong tweeted, which the state party re-posted.
Mr Cruz's Colorado victory continues his pursuit of Donald Trump and sends a sure sign that he is the candidate best prepared for a contested Republican convention.
Rather than a primary or caucus, Colorado held conventions of its own to determine how its delegates would be allotted. Mr Cruz has now won 34 of those delegates in a show of organisational strength that left the Trump campaign scratching its collective head.
In an embarrassing gaffe that could point to wider deficiencies, the campaign mistakenly instructed supporters to vote for Mr Cruz's representatives in at least one instance.
Mr Trump attributed his loss in Colorado to a "bad system", claiming that voters had been "offered all sort of goodies by [the] Cruz campaign".
Mr Cruz, meanwhile, was jubilant.
"If we continue to stand united we will win this Republican nomination," he said.
Mr Trump remains the front-runner, with 743 total delegates to 545 for Mr Cruz.
But it is increasingly likely that neither the property magnate nor the Texas senator will secure the 1,237 needed to win the nomination outright.
That would mean the nominee will be named at the national convention in July, where Mr Cruz's superior operation and loyalty among party activists could be decisive.