For several weeks I have been writing about Ron Paul’s upset victories at district and state GOP conventions, and about the surprising success of his delegate strategy. Now, with Paul’s delegate sweeps in Maine and Nevada, it looks like Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are finally starting to catch on to the trend. Paul supporters swept this weekend’s state GOP conventions, picking up 21 of 24 RNC delegates in Maine and 22 out of 28 delegates in Nevada. The twin victories come on the heels of Paul’s surprise delegate wins at district caucuses and state conventions in Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and Louisiana, as well as a Paul-friendly takeover of the Alaska GOP.
Paul supporters have managed to stage these state-level coups despite significant resistance from local Establishment Republicans, many of whom are predictably reluctant to relinquish their power to the insurgents. So far, however, the Paul campaign has attributed most of the Establishment’s “shenanigans” to local animosities.
But there is growing evidence that the Romney camp — and the national GOP — are stepping up their efforts to prevent an embarrassing Ron Paul uprising on the floor of the Republican National Convention.
In Maine, for example, the Romney campaign dispatched its top lawyer, Benjamin Ginsberg, to oversee the state convention proceedings this weekend. (It’s worth noting that Ginsberg is best known for his work for George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount.)
Ginsberg’s presence didn’t stop the convention from descending into chaos, with both sides accusing the other of breaking party rules with phony ballots and illegal delegate votes. (The Kennebec Journal has a colourful account of the madness here.)
Ultimately, Paul supporters out-numbered and out-organised their Romney counterparts, winning the majority of the state’s RNC delegates, as well as both RNC Committee Chair posts and 34 out of 50 open spots on the state party committee. Romney supporters have pledged to mount a legal challenge to the results with the Republican National Committee.
In Nevada, the Paul sweep was largely expected — the Silver State has been a Ron Paul stronghold since the 2008 election, when the state GOP literally turned off the lights at their convention to avoid seating Ron Paul delegates to the national convention. Since then, Paul supporters have won elections to local and county GOP boards, and are now major players in state Republican politics.
“The Establishment is us now,” Ron Paul’s Nevada campaign director Carl Bunce told Business Insider before this weekend’s convention. “If we turn off the lights, we know where the light switch is.”
But Nevada’s Paul-friendly party Establishment didn’t stop the Republican National Committee from trying to stop Paul’s acolytes from completing their takeover this weekend. In a letter obtained by the Las Vegas Sun last week, the RNC’s lawyer warned that the national party could unseat Nevada’s convention delegation in Tampa if the state party elected too many Ron Paul supporters as delegates.
Romney is also apparently keen not to avoid a second embarrassment in Iowa, a state where Paul continues to make significant inroads. At the Republican National Committee summit in Phoenix last month, Romney aides tried to force Iowa’s three-person RNC delegation to sign a “loyalty pledge” promising to vote for Romney at the national convention. Iowa GOP Chair AJ Spiker, a former state director for the Paul campaign, told Business Insider that the Romney camp backed down after he and the two Iowa RNC chairs refused to sign the pledge.
Privately, sources close to the Ron Paul campaign say they believe Republicans will continue to ramp up his efforts to block Paul delegates at state conventions, particularly after Romney’s embarrassing delegate losses in Massachusetts. But state organisers tell Business Insider that Paul supporters are significantly more organised than Romney’s delegate team, and are ready to put up a tough fight in states like Idaho and Washington.
At this point, it is difficult to gage the actual delegate count, but even his closest campaign advisors admit it would be virtually impossible for Paul to deny Romney the nomination in Tampa.
So why are Establishment Republicans so concerned?
Even if the nomination is not in play, an army of Paul delegates could cause significant problems for the presumptive nominee, who needs a smooth convention to assuage concerns about his ability to unite and energize the Republican base.
While some of Paul’s delegates will be bound to vote for Romney on the first ballot, they will not answer to Romney’s campaign. That means that the presumptive nominee will have little control over how those delegates vote on the other issues at the convention, including the party platform, the convention chair, and even the vice-presidential nominee. If Paul winds up with the majority of delegates in six states — and it looks like he might — they will have the power to stop the convention proceedings, and make a motion on anything from electing a new convention chair, to changing the rules, to introducing new platform positions.
Sources close to the Ron Paul campaign tell Business Insider that senior strategists are already hunkering down to plan their convention strategy. The campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but if the state convention results are any indication, Romney underestimates their plan at his peril.