Mitt Romney campaign expected to challenge delegate selection process

BY COLIN WOODARD

The Portland Press Herald

As many as 21 of Maine’s 24 delegates to this year’s Republican National Convention could be barred from participating if national party officials determine that selection rules were violated at the state convention in Augusta this weekend.

Supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul seized control of the two-day convention, electing the chairman and 20 national convention delegates who are loyal to their candidate.

Backers of Mitt Romney, whose top attorney attended the event, have said the delegate selection process was unsound, claiming numerous violations of state party rules.

Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter who lost a bid to chair the convention by just four votes, said he saw numerous violations of party rules that undermined the integrity of the delegate selection process: town delegations given more paper ballots than they had delegates, at least one county casting more votes than it had delegates, and a failure to control access to the floor to ensure that only accredited state delegates voted.

“This is not a cocktail party, this is a process to produce the nominee for the president of the United States,” Cragin said. “The rules to ensure the integrity of the process were suspended on so many occasions that there wasn’t even time to count them.”

When delegates tried to alert convention Chairman Brent Tweed to perceived violations, he repeatedly ruled them out of order, increasing tension at the Augusta Civic Center and prompting an unsuccessful effort by the Romney camp to oust him Sunday.

Cragin, who was the GOP’s 1982 gubernatorial nominee and has served on the Republican National Committee, said he expects a challenge to be mounted against Maine’s entire delegation, except for the three ex officio members: state party Chairman Charlie Webster, and national committee members Rick Bennett and Jan Staples. The challenged delegates would include 20 Ron Paul supporters and Gov. Paul LePage, who has not endorsed a candidate.

Any challenge to the Maine delegates would be submitted to the Republican National Committee’s contest committee, which is expected to meet a few weeks before the national convention Aug. 27 in Tampa, said Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. “Once they make their decision, it’s final,” she said.

If successful, such a challenge could cause political damage to the state party, said Ronald Schmidt Jr., associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.

“It seems to me that the Maine delegation won’t get seated at all, and that’s not going to help the Maine GOP,” he said. “With Sen. (Olympia) Snowe’s retirement, we’re losing a name that has been prominent in national politics. Presenting another way for Maine not to matter on the national stage is a risky move for Republicans.”

If they’re allowed, Maine’s delegates will join an unexpectedly large camp of Paul supporters at the national convention. While Romney is virtually sure to be the party’s presidential nominee, Paul supporters have been seizing delegates in state after state, taking over conventions and replacing established party officials.

While Paul has not won a statewide caucus straw poll or primary election, he has captured control of majorities of delegates from Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota and now Maine.

If they secure the majority of a fifth state delegation, Paul’s supporters will be allowed to officially nominate him from the convention floor as a rival to Romney.

“If Ron Paul is nominated in Tampa, that would be good for the party and for the cause,” said Doug Wead, a senior advisor to the Paul campaign in Washington, D.C. “We’re close to getting the five (states), and we have enough delegates now that if (Rick) Santorum and (Newt) Gingrich had stayed in, we would have a brokered convention.”

Wead said that if Paul were nominated from the floor, it would likely attract foreign media attention and further leverage the Texas congressman’s ideas. Wead said several times that Paul seeks to have the U.S. Federal Reserve audited, and that national polls indicate overwhelming public support for such a measure.

“If Romney doesn’t get going and says he wants to do that, it’s an issue Barack Obama could take away from him,” he said.

“They want to get their ideas heard, but anything that goes off script from what’s choreographed to happen in Tampa is something the Romney folks want to avoid,” said Josh Putnam, a visiting professor of political science at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., and author of FrontloadingHQ, a blog focusing on the national delegate races. “I think we’re headed toward some sort of negotiated agreement between Romney and Paul, but they’ve yet to figure out what concessions they want to make.”

Messages to the Romney campaign and to Maine Republican Party headquarters were not returned Monday.