At one level, the North Dakota delegate selection today was not a big deal, because the delegates are “unbound” even on the first convention ballot.

The delegates were not even required to openly state their candidate preferences as the Bismark Tribune reported:

Delegates at the North Dakota Republican Party convention elected 25 unbound delegates to be sent to the Republican’s national convention following a debate and failed request providing candidates the choice to declare their preference for president prior to the vote.

Prior to the vote from the list of nearly 75 candidates, a request on the floor to provide each of them the option to publicly state their presidential preference before voting on national delegates failed by a 611-748 vote.

The state has 28 national delegates; the party’s chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman are automatic delegates to the convention.

But that non-story masks the real story.

According to reports, Ted Cruz’s campaign dominated the selection of the 25 delegates, according to CNN:

The Cruz campaign put significant time and resources into the North Dakota voting — as GOP rivals Donald Trump and John Kasich — and on Sunday evening sought to portray the results as an unequivocal win.

“I’m thrilled to have the vote of confidence of Republican voters in North Dakota who delivered such a resounding victory today,” Cruz said in a statement. “As I met them over the weekend, North Dakota Republicans recognized that I am the only candidate who can move this country forward by protecting freedom and liberty. Whether we defeat Donald Trump before the convention or at it, I’m energized to have the support of the vast majority of North Dakota delegates.”

Cruz himself addressed the North Dakota Republican gathering. The other campaigns sent surrogates….

As many as 10 of the delegates on the preferred list have indicated some or solid public support for Cruz.

Of course, the Trump and Kasich campaigns are also claiming victory, though there doesn’t seem to be more than wishful thinking there, as NBC News explained how it went down:

But the Cruz campaign went one step further to ensure North Dakota’s slate of delegates is favorable to the candidate by passing out a piece of paper with a list of 23 people it identified as supporters, asking delegates to vote for them.

“Senator Cruz appreciates all of his supporters at the convention, but he asks you to focus your votes on this group due to the necessities of unifying our votes,” the Cruz slate reads.

There was some overlap with the slate proposed by party officials and some openly admit they’re still undecided.

Dick Dever, a state senator who appeared on both the party slate and Cruz’s proposed slate, said Saturday night he leaned more towards Kasich, but that “the verdict is still out” on who to support — and he could “possibly” decide on the day of the convention.

Trump delegate wranglers roaming the convention privately speculated that the Cruz campaign simply printed a slate for optics, to ensure the story coming out of the convention focused on how many delegates Cruz won over others.

According to Politico, 18 of the 25 have expressed some preference for Cruz, even if not required to do so and not committed to so vote:

Ted Cruz’s preferred candidates won the vast majority of convention delegates available in North Dakota over the weekend, taking 18 of 25 slots in the state in another show of organizational strength over Donald Trump.

But it’s still not clear how loyal all of Cruz’s slate will be, as several included on it told POLITICO they were only leaning toward Cruz, or simply opposed to Trump, if the Republican nomination heads to a contested convention in Cleveland.

The importance of these small delegate skirmishes cannot be overstated. A few delegates here, a few more there, and before you know it, Trump may not reach the majority 1237 he needs on the first ballot.

Depriving Trump of a majority has to be Cruz’s strategy, because once that first ballot is over, things do not look good for Trump, the threat of riots and Days of Rage notwithstanding.