With Newt Gingrich finally out of the race, there’s only one other candidate standing between Mitt Romney and the official nomination. And while Ron Paul doesn’t have a chance to stop Romney, he seems poised to make some trouble for him in at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Across the country, fired-up Paul supporters are crashing the delegate-nominating process long after the rest of the party has moved onto the general election. Exploiting a byzantine nominating process that often flies under the radar, supporters are working the system to gain delegate majorities in states Paul lost in the primaries or caucuses (he hasn’t won a single contest outright).
In Louisiana, Paul delegates dominated the state’s caucuses on Saturday — though Paul took just 6 percent of the primary vote there in March — and are on track to repeat their performance in the state convention on June 2. From there, they could control the delegation, or at least have a plurality of its members.
The results were hardly a surprise to those who were paying attention: Paul activists actively prepared for the takeover.
“They’ve invested heavily here and had volunteers and staff members working and preparing [for the caucus],” Jason Doré, executive director of the Louisiana GOP, told TPM. “None of the other campaigns had anything near that kind of time and resources invested in the caucuses. I don’t know that you could really call it much of an upset from that standpoint.”
If Paul can secure a plurality of delegates in just five states, they can try to nominate him from the convention floor in accordance with the convention rules — potentially providing an embarrassing distraction just at the moment the party is supposed to unify on the public stage. According to Josh Putnam, a professor of political science at Davidson College and expert on delegate procedures, Paul’s supporters should “easily” reach that threshold with likely pluralities in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Colorado and Iowa, in addition to Louisiana. And that could just be the tip of the iceberg.
“Broadly speaking, I don’t think anyone has a firm handle on how deep this goes,” Putnam told TPM. “This is a headache for Romney and they’ll have to deal with it at some point.”
The Minnesota convention hasn’t been held yet, but local reports indicate that Paul backers are poised to “dominate” there as well. A spokesperson for the Minnesota Republican Party declined to comment.
In Massachusetts, Paul supporters scored the majority of Romney’s delegates at the state convention this weekend. Although they’re bound by state rules to vote for Romney, their presence could still influence the convention.
In Colorado, supporters got a healthy number of delegates and are expected to control the overall delegation after joining with a large number of uncommitted Santorum delegates at the state convention in April. And in Iowa, Paul supporters secured a pro-Paul state chair and likely control of the state committee that will choose its delegates for the convention.
In other states, Paul activists are making their influence known even if they don’t control the national delegation. In Alaska, they recently installed a pro-Paul party chair at the state convention.
Tracking the phenomenon is made harder in part because the Paul campaign is tight-lipped about its recent success. Doug Wead, a senior adviser to the Paul campaign, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune after their performance at the Louisiana caucuses, “Had we announced, `Hey we’re going to sneak in there and win,’ we probably wouldn’t have won it.”
Paul spokesman Gary Howard told TPM:
As you know, Congressman Paul had the majority of delegates to the Louisiana state convention, and our campaign has been doing well in attaining delegates in Iowa, Minnesota and and other states as well. Picking up the maximum number of delegates going into Tampa has been our campaign’s primary aim, and the recent successes only go to reinforce that.
Hoarding delegates is the primary aim, but to what end? A month or two ago, when there was a distinct possibility Republicans could reach the end of the primaries with no candidate holding a majority of delegates, Paul’s team hoped to use a contested convention as leverage for their demands.
“Our goal is to accumulate delegates and hold the others under 1,144 to force a brokered convention and secure the nomination for Dr. Paul,” Paul spokesman Jesse Benton told TPM in March. “Short of that, fallback goals would be cabinet positions for our allies committed to free markets, major platform changes and perhaps the vice presidential nomination.”
That was then. Preventing Romney from powering to the nomination seems fantastical at this point. At best, they could offer an embarrassing sideshow by putting Paul’s nomination to a vote on the floor, where he’d likely be instantly crushed by Romney’s delegates. While a handful of state delegations could help put Paul supporters on convention committees that determine its platform and rules, they still would likely be swamped by Romney delegates and those of his former opponents. Still, the establishment’s desire to keep the convention orderly and unified in a high-pressure election — without, say, a bunch of motions about the gold standard — might be enough to extract at least some concessions.
“The Ron Paul campaign is trying to accomplish two things: force votes on their issues on the convention floor and in convention meetings and create controversy to help them advance their issues,” Soren Dayton, a Republican strategist who served as a delegate coordinator for John McCain in 2008, told TPM.
This isn’t the first time the GOP has run into these tactics from Paul’s fervent supporters. In 2008, the Nevada Republican Party shut down their state convention to prevent Paul backers from flooding their delegation over supporters of presumptive nominee McCain.
John Ryder, a national GOP committeemen from Tennessee who helped craft this year’s nominating rules, told TPM that Paul delegates shouldn’t be cause for worry come convention time.
“It’s a chance for them to advocate their position and argue for what they believe is the appropriate role of government in America,” he said. “I think it’ll be interesting to watch.”