- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2012

Rep. Ron Paul may not win the Republican nomination for president — he has yet to win a single state but the Texas lawmaker’s strategy of methodically amassing delegates in caucus states could land him a prominent role at the party’s national convention this summer.

Imagine this: A prime-time speech at the GOP convention in which Mr. Paul criticizes American military action overseas, attacks the Federal Reserve and condemns the war on terrorism as an overreach of government authority at home. It’s enough to make some top Republican Party officials cringe.

But they may have little choice if they want to placate Mr. Paul’s supporters and keep them from becoming a distraction at an event designed to promote party unity and showcase the nominee, whoever he is.

“Paul is fascinating because good ol’ Ron will say just about anything he wants to say at any particular time,” said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “And the last thing you want somebody doing is going off message in prime time at a convention.”

With the exception of Maine, the Texas congressman hasn’t come close to winning the popular vote in any of the first nine states to vote. However, campaign aides say their knowledge of caucus rules and the enthusiasm of Mr. Paul’s supporters give them a unique ability to take advantage of a process that could take several months to sort out.

Mr. Paul’s campaign manager, John Tate, said he is unsure how many delegates Mr. Paul has won in caucus states. But he said campaign officials “are confident that when all is said and done and some of these caucus states finish their process that we will end up with either a good plurality or a majority of the delegates out of Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, possibly Colorado.”

Five caucus states have voted so far. In the Associated Press delegate count, Mr. Paul isn’t projected to win any national delegates in Iowa, Colorado or Minnesota. He got five out of 28 in Nevada and 10 out of 21 in Maine.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the overall race for delegates with 123, followed by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 72, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 32. Mr. Paul is in fourth place, according to the AP count, with 19 delegates. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.

Most primaries and some caucuses are binding, meaning delegates won by the candidates are pledged to support that candidate at the national convention this summer. Political parties in many caucus states, however, use a multistep process to award national delegates, and the final numbers can change before the convention.

In most years, tedious delegate counts do not matter because the party nominee is obvious by then, so the presumptive nominee gets all the delegates, regardless of who won in January.

“The ultimate goal is — obviously — still to win, to get enough delegates there to win the nomination,” Mr. Tate said in an interview. “I think there’s lot of secondary goals, to make sure that our and Dr. Paul’s views are represented at the convention, represented in the platform.”

Rich Galen, a GOP strategist and former Gingrich aide who is neutral in the 2012 race, said he thinks Mr. Paul is guaranteed a speaking spot at the convention, and maybe a few concessions in the party platform, as long as his demands don’t deviate too much from mainstream Republican positions.

And what if M. Paul gets up at the convention and talks about slashing the military or repealing the Patriot Act?

“That’s just Ron Paul being Ron Paul,” Mr. Galen said. “It would make the next morning’s papers, but who cares?”

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