A potential 11th-hour ruling from a federal judge appears to be Rep. Ron Paul's last shot at landing a speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., next week, as the party and a handful of state delegations work to steadily divide contested delegates between Mr. Paul and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
An amended complaint, filed in federal court in California earlier this month, asks whether the Voting Rights Act applies to the convention. If so, delegates argue, the convention constitutes a "federal election" and the Republican National Committee is violating the Voting Rights Act by attempting to deny delegates the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
"No candidate can be assured that they are the nominee until the delegates vote, because the delegates have a statutory and constitutional right to vote their conscience," wrote lawyer Richard C. Gilbert.
After U.S. District Judge David O. Carter granted the RNC's motion to dismiss a previous complaint, plaintiffs filed an amended one earlier this month. Judge Carter ordered them this week to prove why the case should not be dismissed with prejudice, but also wrote that the court "will seek to expedite the resolution of this case." The plaintiffs met Judge Carter's Thursday deadline.
The RNC has until 1 p.m. Friday to file a response, but its attorney previously labeled the original case a "quixotic crusade" and derided the first complaint as "vague and rambling." In addition, the party has been working in Tampa throughout the week to strike deals in states with disputed delegates.
Should a candidate win a plurality of delegates in five states, he is eligible to be formally nominated for president and would accordingly receive a 15-minute speaking slot to make his case for the nomination. And no matter what happens, Mr. Paul's son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, already has been given a speaking slot.
One agreement seats 17 additional Paul delegates from Louisiana, and another sends two delegates and three alternates from Massachusetts.
"We need to set a good example in our party," said Louis "Woody" Jenkins, who was Louisiana's representative to the Republican platform committee at the 2008 convention and honorary chairman of the state's delegation to the 1996 convention. Louisiana Republicans actually held dueling state conventions this year, both of which sent national delegation lists to the RNC.
Mr. Jenkins endorsed former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania during the state's primary and caucuses, but is now supporting Mr. Romney. "As far as the Ron Paul supporters, we want them in the party, not outside the party," he said.
Paul-supported planks are in the party platform, and the delegate negotiations indicate the Romney campaign and the RNC are working to minimize any sense of party discord, said Josh Putnam, a visiting assistant professor at Davidson University, who specializes in campaigns and elections.
"These are all chips being turned in by the RNC in the hopes that it gets all or most of the Ron Paul delegates on their side, or if not on their side, at least satisfied enough not to make a scene," said Mr. Putnam, who is also the proprietor of the elections blog FrontloadingHQ. "This goes back to assuaging any fears or qualms the Paul folks might have. 'All right, fine, you can have Louisiana and [Massachusetts], but we need you to be calm at the convention.'"
The RNC Committee on Contests ruled this week that Maine's Republican convention was not conducted legally, and so a slate of 20 delegates who back Mr. Paul could not be seated in Tampa. The committee said party members and Paul supporters could come to a compromise, or they would do it for them, suggesting that the 20 contested delegates be divided equally between Mr. Paul and Mr. Romney.
Mr. Paul has relied on an intensely loyal cohort of followers and staffers who took advantage of sparsely attended caucuses and entered into state party organizations to expand their influence and increase his delegate count across the country.
For example, he won 21 of the 25 available delegates in Iowa and 32 out of 40 delegates in Minnesota. Though 20 of Nevada's 28 delegates are bound to vote for Mr. Romney as the final nominee, a majority apparently still plan to nominate Mr. Paul.
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