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Why Republicans In The Bronx And Other Deep-Blue Districts Are Suddenly So Popular

Mike Rendino, vice chairman of the Bronx Republican Party, leads a meeting of Bronx Republicans a week before New York's presidential primary.

This was supposed to be a quiet week for Mike Rendino. He manages Stan's, the bar across the street from Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees are in Toronto.

Instead, it's been bedlam.

Rendino said he's "been inundated with phone calls, emails, contacts on Facebook from the strangers, most random people. The New York Times, the Washington Post."

That's because Rendino is also the vice chair of the Bronx Republican Party. And with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump scrapping for every delegate ahead of an expected contested Republican National Convention, Bronx Republicans are suddenly very popular people.

Normally, Rendino said, "I tell people I'm the vice chair, and they're like, 'Yeah, but it's The Bronx. So there aren't that many Republicans.'"

This week, however, "Trump's campaign is all over us. I talked to [campaign manager] Cory Lewandowski yesterday," said Rendino as the 4 train rumbled over the bar.

Cruz held his first campaign event after the Wisconsin primary in the Bronx, and John Kasich showed up one day later to dig into Italian food on Arthur Ave.

New York State divides up the bulk of its 95 convention delegates by congressional district. Each one awards three — even heavily, heavily Democratic districts like the Bronx-based 15th, where Democrats outnumber Republican 19-to-1.

Only 1,682 Republicans voted borough-wide in the 2012 presidential primary. In the one district comprised solely of Bronx voters — the other two bleed into neighboring counties and boroughs — just 285 Republicans cast ballots last time.

"I figure there are seven delegates in this borough for 10,000 voters or less," Rendino said.

Which means Bronx Republicans are essentially super-voters. Swing a couple dozen one way or another, and a candidate could pick up an extra two or three delegates. With Trump's path to the 1,237 delegates needed to avoid a floor fight offering little room for error, those three delegates could be the difference between a clinched nomination and a messy floor fight. (And 81 of New York's 95 delegates on the GOP side are allocated this way, three from each of the state's 27 congressional districts.)

While it may seem almost farcical for Cruz, Kasich, and Trump to troll for votes in one of America's most deep-blue counties, it's a situation that will play itself out again at the end of the primary calendar. California awards nearly all of its 172 delegates in the same fashion. That means Republicans in places like Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles will play the role of super voters when the primary is racing to the finish line.

"Well look, normal, middle-class Republicans find it kind of funny — and also kind of irritating — that people who live in the least-Republican district in the United States of America have more influence than those of us who are actually real Republicans," said Lisa Schiffren, who lives in Riverdale, a higher-income pocket of the northwest Bronx.

Waiting for a meeting of the Bronx Republican Party to get underway, Schiffren said she's backing Cruz. "I know that's not a popular choice in New York," she said. "I'm 100 percent committed, but I do think he could use a speech coach — and some better suits."

Schriffren said she admires Cruz's approach to constitutionalism, but could do with a little less evangelicalism on the campaign trail. "I'm happy they're solid Christians," she said, "But, eh, maybe we don't' need to hear so much about it."

Nearly everyone else at the party meeting was backing Trump, and everyone expects the New York native to do very well here on Tuesday.

"He has a blue collar message, and that's something we haven't heard from the Republican Party nationally," Rendino said. "It's all been about the special interests, the big corporations and the social, right-wing conservatives. More about religion and gay marriage — things that aren't as big an issue to people living in urban areas like us."

He added, "Most of us are Roman Catholic, but we kind of have that separation of church and state."

Rendino said he and Lewandowski had discussed the possibility of Trump making a surprise campaign stop in The Bronx ahead of Tuesday's primary. One possible location: the borough's Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, which many Bronx Republicans mentioned as an example of Trump's business success.

"I grew up 10 minutes away from it," Rendino said, "and I watched for 35 years of my life be a toxic dump until Donald got involved and made it a success."

New York City paid for the vast majority of construction costs.

Cruz further hurt his chances with Bronx GOP loyalists by keeping them out of the loop on last week's Bronx campaign stop, where he appeared alongside a Democratic state senator.

"We're all annoyed," said Fred Brown, who chairs the National Black Republican Congress.

Regardless of Tuesday's outcome, Bronx Republicans are reveling in their relevance.

"Just having three Republican candidates coming to The Bronx is amazing," Rendino told the meeting of about 20 party activists. "This is a high point for us."

He continued, "It actually means something for us. You need to tell people that. You need to tell your neighbors that."

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