This just in from Poland (the country, not the town in Androscoggin County):

On Monday, while presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tried to look worldly by visiting the faraway city of Gdansk, a group of Ron Paul supporters suddenly appeared along his motorcade route with a huge banner proclaiming “Polish Choice — Ron Paul.”

Then, as Romney sped by, his own volunteers doggedly tried to obscure the banner with a small forest of red umbrellas.

I’m not making this up.

We now switch back to Maine, where an equally bemusing drama is playing out in anticipation of the Republican National Convention four weeks from now in Tampa, Fla.

Maine’s GOP delegation, a Ron Paul crowd if ever there was one, is under attack by two longtime Republicans and Romney supporters — Peter Cianchette and Janet Martens Staples.

Their claim: May’s GOP state convention, also known as the most successful political coup in recent Maine history, was so rife with “credentialing irregularities,” “illegal votes” and “lax floor security” that the results should be thrown out. The 20 Paul supporters who were elected as delegates to the national convention should not, repeat not, be allowed to represent Maine on the national stage.

I attended part of that convention and, as someone with no elephant in this fight, I’ll readily stipulate that it indeed was political theater … of the absurd.

From the Paul camp’s claims that the Romney crowd was circulating phony delegate ballots to the Romney side’s charges that uncredentialed Paul supporters were popping up on the convention floor like so many Whac-A-Moles, the state convention was messy, unpredictable and infinitely more entertaining than anything Maine’s Democrats had to offer.

“They wanted a pep rally,” observed Paul delegate Eric Brakey of New Gloucester in an interview on Tuesday. “And then an actual political convention broke out.”

Not so, countered Staples in an interview from her home in Cape Elizabeth.

“This isn’t just a matter of a few t’s not crossed and a few i’s not dotted,” Staples said. “This was a convention gone amok.”

In other words, it’s all a matter of perspective.

To Paul’s supporters, the battle over the Maine delegation (similar fights have broken out in Massachusetts, Oregon and Louisiana) smacks of a heavy-handed Romney campaign that wants no one, least of all Ron Paul, to detract from what “establishment Republicans” have for months been calling “Mitt Romney’s convention.”

Brakey, 23, argues that a national political convention should, by definition, be a place where disparate views come together, maybe even collide from time to time.

“I think a convention is supposed to be a discussion,” said Brakey, who works full-time as a volunteer for the Defense of Liberty PAC. “It’s supposed to be where the party gets together and wrestles a little bit and you figure out what you believe in and what your principles are.”

Thus Brakey and his fellow Paul supporters see no reason why their guy, assuming he gets the five state delegations needed to place his name into nomination, shouldn’t be allowed his 15-minute, prime-time address in Tampa. (In addition to Maine, Paul’s suspended-but-not-defunct campaign claims delegate majorities in Nevada, Minnesota and Utah.)

“It seems to me like (the Romney camp) is kind of paranoid,” Brakey said. “They want a coronation — and I understand that. But we should also at least have a discussion about what we stand for and what’s at the core of our party.”

Back to Staples, who insists that while she and Cianchette indeed are Romney supporters, they did not file their challenge at the behest of the Romney campaign.

Staples also denies the claim by Paul supporters that this is all payback for her ouster as one of Maine’s two representatives on the Republican National Committee. Ashley Ryan, a 21-year-old Paul supporter from South Portland, will take over that spot on Aug. 31.

Rather, Staples insists, the credentials challenge is a logical result of a state convention that got “totally out of control” thanks to a “wholesale ignoring of the rules” by a well-organized group with both libertarian and tea party leanings that now wants to flex its muscle on a wider stage.

“For us,” Staples said, “it’s trying to get back control of our party — and the integrity of the process.”

All of which brings us to the real challenge faced by Republicans in Maine and beyond — not unlike the one that confronted the Democratic Party when anti-war protesters all but derailed the Democratic National Convention in Chicago back in 1968:

How does a major party welcome a populist wave of newcomers to the political arena on the one hand, while retaining its tradition, bedrock principles and ways of doing business on the other?

“I recognize that we have a lot of new energy in the party that should have some representation,” Staples said. “And if every one of them had been duly and properly elected, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Brakey, meanwhile, said he’s perfectly willing to support the inevitable GOP nominee in November’s election — provided that Romney “comes around” on the abolition of the Federal Reserve and other matters near and dear to the Paul movement.

“My support is really based on the issues,” explained Brakey.

So sit back and watch the show — how this summer of GOP discontent will play out is anyone’s guess.

Maine delegation members who haven’t been challenged — Gov. Paul LePage, first lady Ann LePage, GOP Chairman Charlie Webster and National Committeeman Rick Bennett — have all steered clear of Staples’ and Cianchette’s protest.

That leaves Staples, another automatic delegate, in a potentially awkward position: Should she and Cianchette lose their challenge, she’ll find herself in Tampa surrounded by a couple dozen Mainers who, in her opinion, have no right to be there.

Maybe she should bring an umbrella.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]


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