WASHINGTON – For more than two months, Mitt Romney has had enough delegates to claim – unofficially, at least – the Republican presidential nomination.

Unlike the vast majority of delegates nationwide, Matt McDonald doesn’t plan to vote for Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this month.

He and 19 other delegates from Maine are fighting to cast their votes for Ron Paul, whose 158 delegates equal about one-tenth 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 fighting to preserve their “seats” at the convention, which begins Aug. 27 in Tampa, in the face of challenges by Romney supporters and others.

In Maine, two Republicans contend that the 20 pro-Paul delegates were elected improperly during a disorderly state convention in May, so they should be tossed out. A total of 24 delegates plan to represent Maine at the national convention.

In some ways, the unflinching support of Paul delegates is more than symbolic. If Paul can gain the plurality of delegates in at least five states, his name will be placed in nomination alongside Romney’s, earning him a prime-time slot to address the convention — and, therefore, the nation.

Paul’s supporters also hope to introduce some of the libertarian stances espoused by Paul into the Republican Party platform, which serves as the party’s guiding principles.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said challenges to convention 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 in heated GOP primaries that cost the campaign tens of millions of dollars and brought to light issues in Romney’s background that are 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 in a scripted, made-for-TV production.

Gone are the days when potential Democratic and Republican nominees jockeyed for delegates’ support during behind-the-scenes meetings and floor debates.

Paul’s delegates from Maine insist they have no intention of disrupting the process. But they say 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 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 announced.

Paul’s son, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is also popular with libertarians and tea party members, will speak.

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 will go to Tampa with hopes of at least influencing the party platform. He also intends to 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 and burdensome regulations.

He says Paul’s position is resonating with others inside and outside of the GOP, regardless of whether his candidate is in a position to win 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 to do 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 this week and reconvene the week before the convention to hold final hearings and make a decision.

Any appeal would go to the RNC’s Credentials Committee, which will meet three days before the convention begins.

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

[email protected]

 

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