AUGUSTA – Chaos. Turmoil. Insane.
Those were just three of the words attendees used Sunday to describe the Maine Republican State Convention, a two-day unity event at the Augusta Civic Center that morphed into a divisive slog between the party establishment and the highly mobilized, energized and organized supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The discord is likely to continue: The Mitt Romney campaign sent a lawyer to the event and Romney backers are contemplating launching a challenge to the results.
By the time the convention was over, the Paul campaign’s takeover of the parliamentary proceedings and its numbers advantage delivered the Texas congressman 20 of Maine’s 24 national GOP delegates. Each will represent the state at the national convention in Tampa, Fla.
Romney supporters, however, said the delegate election was illegal. Supporters of the presumptive GOP nominee repeatedly maneuvered to challenge the delegate election and claimed that ballots had been tampered with. None of the challenges was successful.
By late Sunday, Romney backers were discussing formally challenging the results with the Republican National Committee. Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter who lost a bid Saturday to chair the convention, said the Paul-led delegation may not be seated at the national convention on Aug. 27 because of alleged violations of rules of procedure.
“They (Paul supporters) have so phenomenally screwed this up that they will go to Tampa and not be seated,” Cragin said.
“When you have no rules, you have anarchy,” he added.
The Paul campaign appeared unconcerned.
Matt McDonald, a Paul supporter and one of the 15 at-large delegates elected over the weekend, said the Paul campaign’s legal team was prepared to meet the Romney challenge.
Romney, meanwhile, dispatched his top attorney, Benjamin Ginsberg, to the civic center. Ginsberg, known for his work for former President George W. Bush during the 2000 election recount, was at times positioned near the main stage, holding a convention rule book.
As the proceedings continued Sunday, Romney supporters lined up at the microphone to object, alleging rules violations.
Convention Chairman Brent Tweed, elected by a four-vote margin Saturday by Paul supporters, ruled each objection out of order. So did state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who stood in for Tweed during the morning session. Katz is not a Paul supporter.
The Romney camp amplified their protests as the convention drew to a close. The tension climbed in the afternoon when Romney supporters tried to oust Tweed with a no-confidence vote. That effort failed, but not before delegates from both sides shouted at one another from the balcony and floor seats.
“I thought everything was going to be OK after Saturday,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, who wandered over to the press area. “But now I don’t know. Things have turned bad.”
“And the whole thing is, this thing is going to get thrown out. Nearly everything they did here was illegal.”
The outcome will likely be determined by the Republican National Committee.
The RNC last week warned the Nevada Republican Party not to seat too many Paul delegates at the national convention or risk not having its entire state delegation counted by the national party.
According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the letter was sent last week to Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, who had asked for a legal opinion about delegate selection ahead of the state GOP convention.
The RNC lawyer said it would be “highly likely” Nevada’s 28 delegate seats at the national convention would be jeopardized if Paul delegates took up slots that should be allocated to Romney.
Romney won the Feb. 4 Nevada caucuses with half the vote.
This weekend, the Paul campaign took over the Nevada convention. The result there was nearly identical to the one in Maine: Paul emerged with 22 of the 25 delegates.
The scene at the Augusta Civic Center cooled off as the convention drew to a close Sunday evening. However, many attendees left exhausted and unhappy.
The party’s U.S. Senate candidates were among the disgruntled. Among the casualties of the disarray were convention speeches designed to elevate the profiles of the six GOP primary candidates for the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
One of those candidates, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, said he planned to bill the party for his lost expenses, about $5,000 he said he paid to rent space and cut videos for the convention.
“Shame, shame, shame on this party and this convention,” he said.
But the gathering was a victory for Paul supporters, who, in addition to the national delegates, also secured two positions on the Maine GOP executive committee, state committeeman and state committeewoman. Both will attend the Tampa convention; however, they won’t be seated on the panel until after the event.
The executive committee elections could endanger the leadership of Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster, who in March riled the Paul supporters with his handling of the caucuses.
Webster will also go to the convention. If the convention delegate election stands, he’ll be making the trip to Tampa with 20 Paul supporters.
“It’s certainly a significant victory,” said Jim Azzola of South Portland, Cumberland County coordinator for Paul.
Paul’s supporters said Maine would become the sixth state to elect a majority of Paul supporters to the national convention, assuring the libertarian-leaning congressman a prime-time podium at the gathering.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: