Paul forces make mark at Maine GOP convention
AUGUSTA, Maine—Ron Paul's army of supporters in Maine flexed their muscle Saturday as they elected their candidate for chairman of the state Republican convention, a first step toward taking over key party committees and giving the Texas congressman a voice at this summer's national convention.
"I think it shows that our numbers are here," Aaron Quinn, a 28-year-old Paul supporter from Brunswick, said after the close chairmanship vote.
Paul supporter Brent Tweed, a state committee member from York County, was elected chairman with 1,118 delegates' votes, just four more votes than the mainstream candidate, Charles Cragin, a one-time gubernatorial candidate. A Paul supporter was also narrowly elected secretary.
The votes were largely symbolic but important because they show the level of support at the crowded convention for the libertarian-leaning Paul. His supporters' real goals were to elect majorities on Republican county, state and national committees -- and elect a majority of the state's delegates to this summer's GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla.
Delivering 13 of Maine's 24 delegates to Paul would ensure he gets a chance to address the convention, said Matthew McDonald of Belfast, a Paul-supporting delegate.
"That's why Maine today is really, really important," McDonald said.
Voting for delegates began Saturday but isn't scheduled to be completed until Sunday.
Nevada Republicans, who were holding their convention Saturday, also expected a strong Paul showing. Paul's supporters said he needed delegate majorities in six states to address the convention and either Maine or Nevada could put him over the top.
The highly organized Paul forces helped to swell the convention delegate count to around 3,000, well over the previous high of about 2,500, party leaders said. Paul forces were anxious to show their might after February's nonbinding presidential caucus vote, which gave Mitt Romney a win but which many GOP members said was bungled by party leaders.
While many of the delegates at Saturday's convention wore stickers supporting presumptive presidential nominee Romney, they were far less vocal than the Paul forces, who had draped large banners with the candidate's name from the balcony rails at the Augusta Civic Center. A number of the delegates consider themselves ABOs -- anybody but (President Barack) Obama.
"If Obama were running against the devil, I'd vote for the devil," said Marc Held, a delegate from Yarmouth.
Despite his strong support in Maine and other states, Paul hasn't won a single state since the primaries and caucuses started in January, though he's been picking up national convention delegates in caucus states where the delegate selection process plays out over several months.
Paul is well behind the other three candidates in the race for delegates with 83, according an Associated Press count. Romney is less than 300 delegates away from the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. The other two candidates with delegates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have since dropped out of the race.
Mainstream Republicans, meanwhile, were making the best of their narrow loss in the initial vote for convention chairman.
"I think it's a democratic process with a small D," Cragin said. "I just hope this enthusiasm continues with some longevity after Tampa."
Votes for a party platform, national delegates and national committee members were also scheduled for Saturday.
Paul supporters said they had no objections to the platform, which included calls for fiscal prudence and no new taxes, strong local and weak national governments, making English the official language of Maine, right to work and voter ID law, and other items.
Two years ago, tea party activists who showed up in force at the convention forced changes that left their mark on the platform.