With Mitt Romney's GOP presidential nomination all but decided, Ron Paul supporters took control of the Maine Republican Convention and elected a majority slate supporting the Texas congressman to the GOP national convention, party officials said. The results gave the Texas congressman a late state victory.
In votes leading to the close of the two-day Maine convention, Paul supporters were elected to 21 of the 24 delegate spots from Maine to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla. The 24th delegate's seat goes to party Chairman Charles Webster, who has remained uncommitted throughout the process.
Making the Paul takeover complete was the election of Paul supporters to a majority of the state committee seats.
"It's certainly a significant victory," said Jim Azzola of South Portland, Cumberland County coordinator for Paul.
Paul, the last challenger to remain in the contest, finished a close second behind Romney in Maine's GOP caucuses in February, but those results were nonbinding. Not everyone had a chance to cast a ballot before the results were announced, and a snowstorm forced the cancellation of some caucuses, including one in a Paul stronghold. Romney won the February straw poll with 39 percent of the vote to Paul's 36 percent. Rick Santorum trailed with 18 percent and Newt Gingrich got 6 percent.
Romney's aides say they do not view Paul as a threat to winning the nomination. But Romney and his team have also been mindful not to do or say anything that might anger Paul's loyal supporters.
"I think he's being very careful because he knows how important the Ron Paul voters are _ they obviously represent a very different dynamic," said Mike Dennehy, a former top aide to Republican John McCain's 2008 campaign. "They are the most passionate and the most frustrated of any voters heading to the polls. And many of them are independents."
The weekend's turn of events _ in a state neighboring one where Romney served as governor _ would indicate the GOP has not yet united behind the presumptive nominee, and there are indications the infighting may last all the way to the national convention.
Paul supporters accused the Romney crowd Saturday of dirty tricks to garner more delegates. "We came here to see democracy in action. We are floored by what happened, absolutely floored to see the cheating," said Elizabeth Shardlow of Auburn, a Paul activist.
Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter who lost Saturday's bid to chair the convention, called the turn of events at the Maine convention "bizarre." Cragin said the Paul-led delegation may not be recognized at the national convention because of violations of rules of procedure this weekend in Augusta.
"They have so phenomenally screwed this up that they will go to Tampa and not be seated," Cragin said.
Another Romney supporter, delegate John Carson of Kittery, acknowledged "this is a split convention."
"The Paul supporters have had a successful process and should be congratulated on that," said Carson, a veteran of numerous state conventions. "I think it's important that the Romney camp and Paul camp come together and support a single candidate," Carson said, adding that candidate should be Romney.