3 RI state lawmakers back Trump presidential bid

176 in both parties have filed to run as delegates in state's April 26 primary so far

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by his wife Melania Trump as speaks during a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Three Rhode Island state lawmakers backed Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign Wednesday, on the first day residents could pull papers to run as a delegate for their preferred candidates.

State Sen. Edward O’Neill, I-Lincoln, and Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, both filed to run as a Trump delegate in the state’s April 26 presidential primary. Also pulling papers was Rep. Joseph Trillo, R-Warwick, who was named Trump’s honorary campaign chairman for Rhode Island last fall.

O’Neill, Costa and Trillo were among 176 Republicans and Democrats who filed Wednesday to run as a presidential delegate, according to data obtained by WPRI.com from the secretary of state’s office. Thursday is the final day to pull nomination papers, which must be returned by March 1 with signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The names gave a window into the level of support for various candidates in both parties, and how various prominent politicians are lining up.

There appears to be more excitement in the GOP, which saw 113 people pull papers for delegate in support of five candidates. On the Democratic side, 63 people pulled papers to run for delegate in support of the party’s two leading contenders.

Among the GOP presidential contenders, Marco Rubio led the pack with 41 individuals pulling papers Wednesday to run as a delegate for him. They included most of the state lawmakers already announced as part of Rubio’s Rhode Island leadership team, as well as Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and his top aide, Carlos Lopez Estrada; former Alex + Ani CEO Gio Feroce; and Republican Party 2nd Vice-Chair David Talan.

Trump was next, with 31 pulling papers to run as one of his delegates. He was followed by John Kasich, who had 21 pull delegate papers, including campaign co-chairs Dawson Hodgson and Bernie Jackvony, as well as state Sen. Nick Kettle, R-Coventry, and former Providence mayoral candidate Dan Harrop.

Ted Cruz was close behind Kasich, with 19 pulling delegate papers for him, including former state Rep. Nicholas Gorham, R-Coventry; former state GOP Chairmen Gio Cicione and Mark Smiley; and Republican Party 1st Vice-Chair Russ Hryzan.

Only one person pulled papers to run for delegate on behalf of Ben Carson, the other high-profile GOP candidate – Rhonda De La Cerda of North Kingstown.

Among the Democrats, 37 pulled papers Wednesday to run as a Hillary Clinton delegate while 26 did so for Bernie Sanders.

Clinton delegate candidates include former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino and former R.I. Democratic Party Chairman Mark Weiner, both longtime Clinton allies; former gubernatorial candidates Clay Pell and Myrth York; Providence City Council members Sabina Matos and David Salvatore; and former state Rep. Ray Rickman, D-Providence. The list for Sanders has fewer bold-faced names but includes South Kingstown Town Council President Abel Collins, a former congressional candidate.

Rhode Island has been allotted 33 Democratic delegates and 19 Republican delegates for this year’s presidential nominating conventions. Both parties allot delegates proportionally based on the results of the April 26 primary, though the Democrats also have nine so-called “superdelegates” who can vote for the candidates of their choice.

Separately on Wednesday, WPRI.com confirmed that all nine of Rhode Island’s superdelegates are formally backing Clinton over Sanders.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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