WASHINGTON — It’s been more than two months since Mitt Romney captured enough delegates to claim — unofficially, at least — the Republican presidential nomination.
Matt McDonald is one of the 24 delegates who plans to represent Maine at the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month. Unlike the vast majority of delegates nationwide, however, McDonald doesn’t plan to cast his vote for Romney.
He and 19 other delegates from Maine are fighting to cast their votes for Ron Paul, whose 158 delegates equate to roughly one-10th of Romney’s total.
“We are realistic,” McDonald said Wednesday, “but for the integrity of the process, we were elected as delegates (for Paul) and we are going to go and support Ron Paul.”
Paul delegates from Maine and several other states are currently battling to preserve their “seats” at the Tampa convention, which begins Aug. 27, in the face of challenges by Romney supporters and others. In Maine, two Republicans contend the 20 pro-Paul delegates were elected improperly during a disorderly state convention in May and therefore should be tossed out.
In some ways, the unflinching support of Paul delegates from Maine and several other states is more than symbolic. If Paul can accrue the plurality of delegates in at least five states, his name will be placed in nomination formally alongside Romney’s, earning him a prime-time slot to address the convention — and, therefore, the nation.
However, Paul supporters also hope to introduce some of the libertarian stances espoused by Paul during the campaign into the Republican party platform, which serves as the national party’s guiding principles.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said delegate challenges such as those playing out with the pro-Paul delegates were more common in the past.
“The main reason these happen is to gain some leverage in shaping the party platform or the speaker schedule,” Zelizer wrote in an email. “In fact, the challenge itself in this day and age is a way to gain media attention for a candidate or a cause. Given that Paul is a candidate with a message, the challenge helps keep the arguments in favor of libertarian conservatism alive.”
To secure the nomination, Romney spent months battling Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and others during a heated GOP primary that cost the campaign tens of millions of dollars and brought to light issues in Romney’s background now being highlighted by the Obama campaign.
So for many Republican faithful, the national convention is a chance to rally around Romney and formally introduce their candidate to the rest of the voting public through a scripted, made-for-TV production.
Long gone are the days when potential Democratic and Republican nominees jockeyed for support of delegates during behind-the-scenes meetings and floor debates.
Paul’s delegates from Maine insist they have no intention of disrupting that process, with one delegate declaring, “We’re not the Occupy movement.”
Even so, they said, Paul and his supporters should have a place — and a voice — on the convention floor.
“There is no reason that having different ideas or having a discussion should tear the party apart,” said Eric Brakey, a Paul delegate from Maine who also directed the candidate’s campaign in the state. “A convention is supposed to be where people come together and have discussions.”
Republican National Committee officials have yet to give Paul a formal role at the convention — or if they have, it hasn’t been publicly announced. Paul’s son, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, who is also popular with libertarians and Tea Party members, will speak, however.
A representative for the Paul 2012 campaign was not available for comment Wednesday.
Mark Willis, a Paul delegate from the Washington County town of Dennysville, said he and others are headed to Tampa with hopes of at least influencing the party platform, although he also intends to cast his vote for Paul.
Willis said he identifies with Paul’s stances on auditing the Federal Reserve, his opposition to the U.S. going to war without congressional authorization and his support for freeing small farmers from costly, burdensome regulations.
He thinks Paul’s position is resonating with others both inside and outside of the GOP, regardless of whether his candidate is in a position to capture the nomination.
“We are a passionate, motivated, well-organized and principled force within the Republican Party,” Willis said, “and at the end of the day, we want what is best for the Republican Party and for America.”
The RNC’s “Committee on Contests” will meet this week in Washington to begin reviewing the challenges filed in Maine and other states. Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the RNC, said the committee will review paperwork filed on the challenges this week and will re-convene the week before the convention to hold final hearings and make a decision.
Any appeal would go to the RNC’s Credentials Committee, which meets three days before the convention begins.