Ron Paul routs could spell trouble for Romney at convention

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign have snatched up a growing number of delegates to the Republican National Convention. In some states, they are bound to vote for Mitt Romney, or another candidate, on the first ballot.

But what if these delegates do not vote for Romney? According to Josh Putnam, a Davidson College professor who authors the blog Frontloading HQ, they can abstain without violating party rules.

There are 16 delegates in Massachusetts who are bound to support Romney, but personally support Paul. Each presidential candidate’s campaign acknowledges that these delegates are bound to Romney on the first ballot.

But in Massachusetts, and other states where Paul supporters have taken over delegate positions, they could abstain — conceivably denying Romney the nomination on the first ballot. “This is a tricky maneuver, but not one that is prohibited by the Republican Party delegate selection rules,” writes Putnam.

According to the Associated Press’ current delegate projection, Romney is less than 300 delegates away from winning the nomination outright with 1,144 delegates on the first ballot.

If Romney’s projected delegate count includes a large number of Paul supporters — and if delegates awarded to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum remain committed to those candidates — Paul could theoretically block Romney’s nomination on the first ballot.

One key to such a scenario would be a significant number of “secret” Paul supporters who have been selected as delegates in primary states. Putnam notes that there’s no way of knowing how many of these delegates are out there.

In several caucus states, Paul’s supporters have captured a majority or near-majority of delegates. In other states, ongoing selection processes look promising for Paul.

Over the weekend Paul supporters won 18 out of 24 delegates up for grabs in Maine, and won 22 of 25 delegates up for grabs in Nevada. In each state, Romney won the initial statewide caucus vote.

In Minnesota last month, Paul supporters won 20 out of 24 delegate positions awarded in congressional district conventions. In Iowa, Paul supporters took over the party organization and are considered likely to dominate the state’s RNC delegation.

In Louisiana — a state that awards 26 delegates based on the results of its March 24 primary and the remainder via a protracted caucus process — Paul supporters will comprise 74 percent of the delegates going to the state’s Republican convention in June, where 20 RNC delegates will be selected.

In Massachusetts last month, Paul supporters won at least 16 delegate positions, defeating prominent Romney supporters including his one-time lieutenant governor. In Alaska, Paul supporters took over the party’s leadership — prompting the outgoing leadership to empty the organization’s bank account.

Looking ahead, Paul supporters appear to be angling for victories in Washington state, Idaho, Colorado and Missouri. Putnam notes that Nevada, Alaska and some other caucus states with Paul-heavy delegations technically bind delegates to reflect the proportional breakdown of initial statewide caucus votes.

Supporters of Paul are eying RNC rule 40, which says that a candidate must have a plurality of delegates in five states to become the party’s nominee. Achieving this feat would allow for the extremely unlikely, yet still possible, selection of Ron Paul as the Republican presidential candidate.

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