Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul captured the majority of Nevada’s national delegates early Sunday, overwhelming likely nominee Mitt Romney with an organized contingent who easily took control of the state convention.
Paul’s supporters won 22 of the 25 national delegate slots up for election at the state convention in Sparks on Saturday. Romney won three.
Another three automatic delegates are expected to support Romney, meaning Romney will have six supporters in the delegation and Paul will have 22.
But while Paul loyalists will make up the majority of the Nevada delegation, Republican rules require the first vote at the national convention to reflect the results of the Feb. 4 caucus, which Romney easily won.
That means 20 of Nevada’s national delegates must vote for Romney, while eight will be free to vote for Paul in the first balloting.
While some Paul supporters voiced an intention to challenge the binding requirement, the campaign opted not to further antagonize the Republican National Committee, who has threatened not to seat the delegates if they ignore the caucus results and vote for Paul.
“We are sending a strong delegation to Tampa in August,” Paul’s Nevada chairman Carl Bunce said. “There are rumors that (the Paul campaign) will actively work to not follow rules and unbind our delegates. That is false; we are not doing that. Congressman Paul is an individual who wants to follow the rules, follow the Constitution and we follow that lead.”
Jim DeGraffenried, the secretary of the state party, stressed party officials will not allow the national delegation to deviate from the binding caucus results.
“We will not allow anyone to break that,” DeGraffenreid said. “If they do, the will revoke their delegate status and they will be replaced by alternates.”
The alternates are largely Romney supporters.
Paul’s campaign has been determined to use the party’s own rules to keep his long-shot candidacy alive. His backers have spent the last four years immersing themselves in the arcane procedures governing the presidential nominating contest.
They’re embarked on a state-by-state strategy to capture enough national delegates to influence the convention in Tampa and to be well positioned should an opportunity for a brokered convention arise.
Although Paul has failed to win the popular vote in any state primary or caucus, many of his backers are still convinced he can win the nomination.
According to estimates based on initial primary and caucus results, Romney has won 847 delegates compared to Paul’s 80 delegates.
Bunce portrayed Paul’s victory at the state convention as the growing power of his message “of liberty” within the party’s ranks.
“There’s going to be growing pains in this party,” Bunce said. “Those of you who aren’t part of the liberty movement yet, I hope you can at least ask questions, see where we’re coming from. I do not want this party to fall apart.”
But Bunce clearly reveled in the campaign’s ability to control the convention, even while promising to follow the rules.
“Just because you have the power doesn’t mean you have to wield it,” he said in announcing the contingent would not challenge the binding requirement. “Just because you have the sword doesn’t mean you have to strike.”
The Romney campaign has done its best to distance itself from the state convention chaos, sending lawyers to watch over the count and doing its best to organize supporters.
In the end, they failed to get enough of their backers to Sparks to elect delegates.
But campaign officials say they are focused instead on the fact he won 16,486 of the 32,894 votes cast in the February caucuses.
“We are pleased to have won the support of so many Nevadans on Election Day,” a Romney campaign spokesperson said. “With his overwhelming win, delegates to the national convention will be backing Gov. Romney in Tampa in support of his positive vision for our country.”
National Republican officials characterized the Nevada convention as a “Ron Paul super bowl,” noting that his supporters spent the last four years working to take over the state party structure. They’ve captured seats on state and county central committees, elected a state chairman and elected their own to represent Nevada at the Republican National Committee.
A RNC source said the party won’t challenge the results of the delegate election as long as they honor the binding rule.