AUGUSTA, Maine — Two years after a tea party power play at the Maine Republican Convention, Ron Paul supporters hope to stage a takeover as state GOP delegates gather this weekend.
Paul Madore, Paul’s state chairman, said Friday that the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman’s supporters hope to get their own convention chairman elected as the two-day event begins Saturday morning, giving them a bold voice to reflect Paul’s close second-place showing in Maine’s caucuses.
Competition for the chairmanship underscores a division between mainstream Republicans and the libertarian wing as the state GOP seeks solidarity in the battle for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be-open seat and to build upon legislative majorities it won two years ago.
That crucial vote will be the first indication of whether Paul’s forces have the muscle to carry the convention as it adopts a platform and elects delegates to the national convention.
“The first vote will tell the story,” said Madore, of Lewiston.
The push by Paul’s supporters, a well-organized group that made strong showings at most of the state’s caucuses — which are nonbinding — comes two years after tea party activists attended the GOP convention in large enough numbers to toss the party platform and put in place their own statement of conservative principles.
As this year’s convention gets under way, there’s lingering bitterness in GOP ranks over the February caucuses, in which former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was declared the winner over Paul before all the votes were counted.
“There are many Ron Paul supporters who think something funny happened in Maine,” said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine.
“Paul’s supporters have always been very energetic and very enthusiastic, very dedicated to the cause,” added Brewer. They are willing to take the extra steps and attend caucuses, conventions and other party events, he said.
Nationally, Paul has a base of die-hard supporters, has been raising contributions consistently and says there are no plans for him to quit the presidential race, even though he is far behind Romney in the contest for 1,144 delegates needed for the GOP nomination; Maine has 24. His supporters have been taking control of local and state Republican parties across the nation as a way to influence platforms and give Paul more standing at the national convention this August in Tampa, Fla.
In Nevada, Paul’s supporters planned to attempt to take over the state GOP convention this weekend, despite threats by the national party that the delegation to the national convention may not be seated if Paul succeeds in packing the delegation. Romney took half of the votes in Nevada’s presidential caucuses in February.
The possibility of a Ron Paul takeover in Maine prompted state GOP Chairman Charles Webster to send an email to GOP delegates and alternates on Friday urging them to thwart an effort to divide the party. His email urged delegates to arrive early for the critical vote for convention chairman and secretary.
Paul supporter Brent Tweed, a state GOP committee member from York County, will challenge the party’s mainstream candidate to lead the convention, Charles Cragin.
“This would be the first opportunity for anyone to ‘take over’ the convention by electing ‘their’ convention chairman,” Webster wrote.
“I regret the necessity of writing this message, but unfortunately there are those among us who would choose to divide us rather than unite us,” Webster wrote.
Madore said the Paul forces’ efforts at the state level are part of a larger effort to get their candidate’s message heard at the party’s national convention this August in Tampa, Fla.
“We want to be heard,” said Madore. He said Webster’s email is part of a “scorched-earth attempt” to ensure control by the party’s mainstream.