Politics 2012: Ron Paul raining on Romney's parade

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  May 6, 2012 at 5:07 AM
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Mitt Romney may be getting all the splashy headlines in his march toward the August Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., but fellow Republican Ron Paul has been steadily fundraising, visiting primary states, picking up delegates and gaining control of state party organizations.

Backers of the libertarian-leaning U.S. representative from Texas -- the lone active challenger to Romney -- have taken control of the Iowa Republican Party and become more influential in party politics in several other states, The Hill and other media outlets reported.

State GOP organizations are usually responsible for get-out-the-vote efforts and other duties necessary for a successful election. If officials aren't Romney supporters, the former Massachusetts governor and Republicans down-ticket could suffer an enthusiasm gap.

By using party rules, Paul-ites have engineered post-primary organizing coups in several states, confirming what party insiders say would be an attempt to enhance Paul's role at the convention and in party's platform deliberations, The Washington Times said.

In Massachusetts -- the state where Romney governed -- Paul loyalists recently helped block more than half of Romney's preferred nominees from being named delegates at state party caucuses even though Romney won the state in a cakewalk.

While Paul is given virtually no chance of claiming the nomination in Tampa, he sure can try to jam up things and possibly deny Romney the nomination on the first ballot, insiders said. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to win the party nod.

Paul's strength in Iowa and Nevada, two swing states in the presidential election, has emerged as Romney's biggest concern, observers told The Hill.

In fact, national party leaders wrote a letter to their state counterparts in Nevada, which Romney won.

In a letter delivered Wednesday to Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald, RNC chief counsel John R. Philippe Jr. said if Ron Paul delegates were allowed to take too many slots for the national convention, Nevada's contingent may not be seated, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

"I believe it is highly likely that any committee with jurisdiction over the matter would find improper any change to the election, selection, allocation or binding of delegates, thus jeopardizing the seating of Nevada's entire delegation to the national convention," Philippe said in his letter but noting his letter was advisory only.

In Iowa, the state's new party chairman, A.J. Spiker, is a Paul supporter, as are a majority of the state party's central committee members. Spiker has pledged to work for all of the party's nominees.

Iowa originally was reported going for Romney, but a recount awarded the win to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who has left the campaign.

Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, said he believes Spiker and others in the state party structure may not be inclined to do the work necessary to help Romney win there.

"This could be problematic for Romney down the road and problematic for Iowa Republicans in general," Robinson said. "I think Iowa's going to be very tough, very difficult for Mitt Romney this fall."

Some of the blame is at Romney's feet, Robinson said, because he did little to organize in the state before the caucuses then basically hasn't been seen there since. Also, the Paul forces are out-hustling traditional Republicans.

There's already some bad blood between Romney and Iowa GOP leaders. At a Republican National Convention meeting in late April, the state's three committee members were barred from a private reception with Romney after they refused to sign forms pledging to back him at the party's national convention.

The Republican National Committee has downplayed any uneasiness about Paul supporters not working for Romney.

"There's no doubt that Ron Paul and his supporters run great grassroots operations, we've seen that for years now, and I think Ron Paul's first goal is to defeat the president," RNC spokesman Kirsten Kukowski told The Hill. "I'm sure some discussions are being had right now but at the end of the day we'll be on the same team and we'll love to have Ron Paul supporters on board."

Paul supporters also scored key roles in other state-level GOP organizations in other states, including Maine, Minnesota and Washington. While none of the states is expected to have a competitive presidential race, they do have some feisty down-ticket match-ups.

In Minnesota, Senate candidate Pete Hegseth, the GOP establishment candidate, faces a challenge from Paul supporter Kurt Bills, who has a shot at preventing Hegseth from winning the party's nomination at the state convention. If that happens, there'd be an August primary, leaving the winner of that tilt virtually no time to prepare for a daunting race against Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Hegseth and a third GOP candidate, Dan Severson, say Minnesota Republicans should be worried that Paul's brand of politics would make Bills the wrong candidate to run against Klobuchar in the general election, Minnesota Public Radio reported recently.

"We're not attacking Kurt Bills. We're just bringing out facts about how viable Ron Paul has been in winning elections and how closely tied Kurt Bills is to Ron Paul," Hegseth said. "This isn't about mudslinging. This isn't about being nasty. This is about delegates [who] are going to make a choice."

Paul, a three-time presidential candidate, himself has been fundraising and spending time in Texas, with its primary May 29, and California, which holds its primary June 5 while his volunteers pursue influencing delegate counts, CBS News reported.

"The goal is to work as hard to get as many delegates as possible to see what happens," campaign spokesperson Gary Howard said. "The plan as it has always been is to work hard in the caucus and convention states."

CBS News' estimated delegate scorecard indicates Romney has 865 delegates, swamping Paul, who has 78. But the Paul campaign disputes those numbers, arguing the initial delegate estimates aren't the whole picture.

Even in states that have already voted, the campaign is still working the process by "reaching out to state delegates" and persuading them to support Paul -- because they know that the primary is a race for delegates, not votes.

In Louisiana, Paul's campaign said he won 74 percent of the 150 state delegates at Louisiana's state convention last weekend, despite placing fourth with only 6 percent support in the state's primary, Daily Caller said.

"Preliminary results from the Louisiana Republican Party indicate that Ron Paul supporters won majorities in Congressional Districts 1, 2, 5, and 6, with a narrow decision having occurred in District 4," Paul's campaign said in a release. "This means Ron Paul supporters won about 4 1/2 of the six Congressional District caucus conventions ... ."

Howard told CBS News the campaign won't know the true delegate numbers until next month when states complete their conventions and finalize their delegate count.

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