By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — For Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and much of the news media, the presidential nomination process is wrapped up.
The much-televised reality show and political horse race has crowned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the party’s “presumptive nominee,” amounting to a “complete merger wherein the RNC (which) is putting all of its resources and energy behind Mitt Romney to be the next president of the United States,” the RNC chairman said in late April.
This omits the preferences of the 15 states yet to cast a single vote, as well as party rules that officially bar the committee from endorsing one candidate while another remains in the race.
But for the passionate supporters of Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the fight to be represented at the GOP National convention here has just begun — much to the chagrin of the entrenched Republican establishment.
At state GOP conventions nationwide, backers of the libertarian congressman have used the arcane — and at times arbitrary — rules of the Republican Party to secure significant numbers of delegates and committee chair positions, displaying an enthusiasm thus far lacking among the other candidates.
While Paul remains mathematically short of a majority, party insiders concede the plurality of his delegates could tilt the Republican platform in a more fiscally conservative, socially liberal direction for the national convention, which is Aug. 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The tally kept by the Associated Press and other news organizations gives Romney 856 and Paul 94, but these figures remain inaccurate, because they assign to Romney unpledged delegates.
A candidate needs 1,144 delegate votes to secure the party’s nomination.
Delegates for former GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will become unbound, once the campaigns and the state parties officially release them, according to national Republican Party rules.
The website TheGreenPapers.com has a more accurate summary of “hard” and “soft” delegates.
‘Violating their own rules’
Though news organizations and party heads have declared Romney the de facto winner, an examination of the official Republican Party rules and delegate allocation reveals the finish line may not be as close as first imagined.
In Maine, for example, where Paul lost to Romney by 3 percent in the caucus straw poll in March, Paul supporters this past weekend elected 21 of the 24 delegates, leading local GOP leaders to decry the convention as a “takeover” and a “hijacking” by the younger, more-libertarian crowd.
Unfazed by RNC lawyers who threatened to “jeopardize the seating of the state delegation,” Paul supporters Sunday managed to elect 22 of 25 delegates in Nevada, 20 of whom will be required to choose Romney in the first round of voting at the national convention, according to state party rules.
If no candidate holds a majority after one round of voting at the national convention, delegates are free to support the candidate of their choice in the second round, but any candidate can be nominated if he holds a plurality of five state delegations.
Of the 13 delegates so far chosen in Iowa, 10 have declared support for Paul publicly, while the new state GOP party is laden with Paul devotees.
And after advantageous state conventions in Massachusetts, Louisiana, Alaska, Minnesota and Washington state, Paul seems poised to have a heavy hand of delegates who will be heard on the convention floor.
“Really, if you look at the party, they are seriously violating their own rules,” said Brian Jenkins, a former Utah RNC delegate lining up as a primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.
Jenkins described the tumultuous scene at his state’s GOP convention in May 2008, when the party leadership adopted a rule forcing all delegates to vote for Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, though he received just 6 percent of the primary votes.
“The people don’t really know it, but we’ve lost the power to actually nominate our candidates,” Jenkins told Florida Watchdog. “It’s the state committees who have the power and decide who wins.”
Jenkins said rules are created often arbitrarily by the state parties to give an advantage to certain favored candidates, such as McCain in 2008 and now Romney.
“The way the rules are enforced now inevitably creates chaos,” said Nancy Lloyd, former RNC member and delegate in Utah who has been battling for clearer language in party rules.
“It discourages the majority of grassroots candidates and really serves to create incentives for rigging the game,” Lloyd told Florida Watchdog.
Lloyd and Jenkins point to two specific sections of the RNC rules that may complicate Romney’s quick de facto nomination, namely rules 37 and 38.
As explained by both former Utah delegates, rule 37 allows delegates to challenge the roll call of their state at the national convention if “exception is taken” as to the “correctness” of the ballot, meaning delegates could be asked individually to whom they pledge their vote, rather than the allocation determined by the state party after the original vote.
Rule 38 says “no delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound by any attempt of any state or congressional district to impose the unit rule,” barring any state from requiring entire delegations to vote for a single candidate, much like the Utah delegation did for McCain in 2008.
However the numbers end up, most agree Paul and his followers will shake the establishment of the Republican Party, as well as their formal process.
“If any group challenges the vote on the floor of the convention or feels disenfranchised by the process, I don’t think anyone can prepare for that,” said Lloyd. “It could be an embarrassment for the party.”