Mitt Romney may be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is quietly racking up some organizational victories that could complicate Mr. Romney's anticipated coronation at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.
Exploiting party rules, loyalists for the libertarian congressman from Texas in recent days have engineered post-primary organizing coups in states such as Louisiana and Alaska, confirming what party regulars say would be an effort to grab an outsized role in the convention and the party's platform deliberations.
In Massachusetts, the state where Mr. Romney served as governor, Paul loyalists over the weekend helped block more than half of Mr. Romney's preferred nominees from being named delegates at state party caucuses — even though Mr. Romney won his home state's primary with 72 percent of the vote. Many state GOP establishment figures, including longtime state Republican National Committee member Ron Kaufman, won't be going to Tampa in August as official delegates.
Mr. Paul, who is Mr. Romney's only active challenger with the expected withdrawal Wednesday of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "is doing more with less than any modern presidential campaign in recent memory," said Doug Wead, a Paul campaign adviser who served as an aide to President George H.W. Bush.
"More surprises coming," Mr. Wead, an evangelical Christian, blogged this week. "It means that Ron Paul will be a factor in Tampa."
The first public signs of Mr. Paul's supporters' stealth success emerged in populous DeKalb County, Ga., on March 10. Mr. Gingrich won the state's March 6 primary, but in Georgia and other states, the selection of delegates to the national convention takes place in subsequent party caucuses. So Paul loyalists can run for delegate slots ostensibly as supporters of Mr. Gingrich or another candidate.
In Alaska — where Mr. Paul came in third in the primary behind Mr. Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — his supporters organized to elect two Paul loyalists, Russ Millette and Debbie Holland-Brown, as chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the state party, beating out candidates backed by the Alaska GOP establishment. However, the current state members of the Republican National Committee beat back attempts to replace them with Paulites.
In Alaska, tea-party-backed 2010 GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller and wife Kathleen struck an apparent alliance with Mr. Paul's team, and she won election March 27 as a delegate to the Tampa convention.
Mr. Paul's forces failed in their more ambitious move in Anchorage to change Alaska party rules and give all 24 of the state's delegates to the Texan. Alaska GOP officials say Mr. Paul still will have six committed delegates from the state at the convention.
The Paul campaign's skill in outmaneuvering rivals in delegate selection battles could produce some uncomfortable moments for a Romney campaign with a reputation for discipline and efficiency.
Before the Paul surprise coup in Massachusetts, for example, the RNC had assigned the Marriott Hotel in Tampa overlooking the convention center for the delegation representing the likely nominee's home state. The hotel is considered the nicest in the vicinity — and now the Paul delegates will be able to enjoy the top-floor views.
In Louisiana, Mr. Paul's forces won in four congressional districts and split a fifth, virtually ensuring control of the June state convention, where the final selection of delegates will take place. Mr. Paul reportedly has won more than half the delegates apportioned to Iowa, Minnesota and Washington.
While he is given virtually no chance of derailing Mr. Romney's march to the 1,144 delegates needed for the Republican nomination, Mr. Paul could conceivably help deny Mr. Romney a first-ballot nomination, with enough muscle to gain a place at the podium and a large say in the party message for the fall campaign.
Although Mr. Romney has reached out to candidates who exited the race, what precisely Mr. Romney and his aides can do to win a degree of pre-convention cooperation from Mr. Paul and his brigades is problematic, campaign operatives say. There was considerable nastiness in Mr. Paul's dealing with campaign managers for 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain — some of which spilled onto the convention floor.
Some Romney supporters say privately that it's unclear what Mr. Paul expects to accomplish at the convention, given that the 150 new party "superdelegates" are thought to be irredeemably hostile to Mr. Paul's efforts and are eager to ensure a first-ballot Romney nomination.
If Mr. Paul seeks platform concessions, he won't be able to use nomination balloting as a cudgel because the platform is written a week earlier. He also will have to apply early if he wants a prominent speaking slot in Tampa because the platform lineup is worked out weeks before the convention.
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