Infighting rains on McCain's party

Diehard Paul supporters seek role at convention

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / May 9, 2008

Senator John McCain is sailing toward his coronation as the Republican presidential nominee while the Democratic candidates battle fiercely. But Republicans also are engaged in some tough infighting that could disrupt the national convention and make it more difficult for him to unite the party in the fall.

Across the country, at state and county GOP conventions, diehard supporters of maverick Ron Paul are staging uprisings in an effort to secure a role for Paul at the national convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

And in the four primaries since clinching the nomination in early March, McCain has yet to reach 80 percent of the vote, as Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee continue to siphon away votes, even though Huckabee has withdrawn from the race.

The lingering anti-McCain sentiment among some voters and the continuing Paul insurgency suggest that McCain has not fully quelled hostility from some elements in his party.

Paul remains the lone holdout who is still actively campaigning. He has indicated he is unlikely to endorse McCain, and his zealous supporters have turned out in large numbers to battle for delegates at recent GOP gatherings in Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

The Paul supporters do not see themselves as fighting for a hopeless cause, but as members of a new movement founded on libertarian principles. Paul's newest book, "The Revolution: A Manifesto," has soared quickly to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

"This is about continuing the message and having a voice of freedom, constitutionalism, and peace inside the Republican Party," said Paul's Maine coordinator, Ken Lindell, a former state representative. "The goal at the national convention is to get a speaking slot for Dr. Paul to deliver that message."

Other Paul loyalists say they may try to open debate on the party platform at the convention in early September. Paul, a congressman from Texas, opposes the war in Iraq and what he describes as an interventionist US foreign policy.

He also advocates minimal government, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and a return to a monetary policy based on the gold standard.

Paul has 19 delegates to McCain's 1,413, the latter being well more than the 1,191 needed for the nomination, according to the latest Associated Press unofficial tally. Paul's campaign, which shattered online fund-raising records early in the campaign, had $5.1 million in cash at the end of March.

In Minnesota, Paul loyalists captured seven delegate slots at congressional district meetings, and in Nevada, the convention abruptly recessed on April 26 after balloting showed Paul supporters winning at least half of the initial contests for delegate slots to the national convention.

"We want them to know we're not going to roll over any more, and as long as [Paul] is running, we'll stand by him," said Arden Osborne, a Paul supporter and chairman of the Nevada Liberty Alliance. Osborne believes he won one of the slots to the national convention during the state convention in Reno.

No date has been set yet to resume the convention, said Zac Moyle, the Nevada GOP's executive director. "It was by no means an attempt to suppress certain people," Moyle said.

The problem, he said, was that rules changes pushed by the Paul group and supported by others opened up a flood of new nominations for delegate slots. That would have added hours of more deliberation and the party had overstayed its contracted time with the Reno hotel-casino, he said. In the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses, Paul, with 14 percent, finished second behind Mitt Romney.

The Nevada convention alarmed party officials in some states with later gatherings, and the efforts of Paul forces, some of them new to the party, to flood these proceedings have caused headaches for party leaders.

Last weekend in Maine, McCain's forces were well organized, but Paul's activists nevertheless managed to pick up one of the 18 delegates at stake.

In the state's Feb. 1 caucuses, Paul finished third, with 19 percent of the vote, behind McCain with 21 percent and Romney with 52 percent.

Julie O'Brien, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said about 50 people were denied credentials at last weekend's convention in Augusta. Some were not of voting age, others did not live where they claimed to, and some were not registered Republicans, she said.

"They attempted fraud," O'Brien asserted. "We knew what had happened in Nevada, so we really prepared in advance . . . to make sure everything was done by the book."

In Missouri, where activists will elect at-large delegates at a state convention at the end of May, a credentials challenge to as many as 300 Paul supporters is underway after his acolytes nearly swept several big county conventions that chose delegates to the statewide gathering. On some Internet sites, Paul supporters have contended they are being discriminated against by the party's establishment.

But Jared Craighead, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said the challenges were initiated by neither the party nor the McCain campaign but by "various individuals." "We have no accurate way of knowing who is a Paul supporter," he said in an e-mail in response to Globe inquiries, but said he is certain at least some who were challenged are not Paul partisans.

There have been similar shows of strength for Paul at some county conventions in Washington state, where Republicans will also hold their statewide convention at the end of this month.

McCain, meanwhile, has not shown overwhelming strength in the past four GOP primaries. Nearly a quarter of voters have cast ballots for candidates who had already dropped out of the contest or for Paul, who tallied 16 percent in Pennsylvania, 8 percent in Indiana, 7 percent in North Carolina, and 4 percent in Mississippi.

Republican officials in several states and at the national party, however, said the GOP is coalescing around McCain. One pointed to results in the 2000 primaries as evidence recent trends are not unusual.

After McCain endorsed George W. Bush, an average of 18 percent of the voters did not cast ballots for Bush in three successive primaries.

But there remain Republicans, mainly conservatives, who have problems with McCain's past positions, including advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform and restrictions on campaign spending by independent groups.

Charlie Meadows, chairman of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, is among them.

"If I lived in a battleground state, I would buy a No. 10 clothespin, clip it on my nose, go into the voting booth and pull the McCain lever," said Meadows, a leader of a Paul faction that unsuccessfully challenged a party-sanctioned slate at the state GOP convention last weekend in Tulsa. "But in Oklahoma, where McCain will win with a 200,000-vote surplus, he does not need my vote, and I will leave my ballot blank."

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