AUGUSTA, Maine — There is widespread agreement that the Republican State Convention over the weekend suffered from a lack of organization after being taken over by a strong contingent of supporters of Ron Paul. What is unclear is whether the two-day event will end up being all for naught if the results of the convention are challenged.
Paul, who trails Mitt Romney badly in national polling and the delegate count in the race for the Republican nomination for a presidential run, hopes to turn the National Republican Convention this August in Florida into a scene similar to the one that unfolded Saturday and Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center. Paul supporters in Maine elected their own convention chairman and brought dozens of Paul-supporting delegates to the event.
Whether all those supporters became national convention delegates remains a central question. Rick Bennett of Oxford, a member of the National Republican Committee and a U.S. Senate candidate, said he expects challenges to the results of Maine’s convention — namely whether the delegates were properly credentialed — to come from more than one direction.
“I think both the Romney and Paul folks are expecting that the credentials will be challenged,” said Bennett on Tuesday. “I’ve been to 15 conventions consecutively since I was a 20-year-old in 1984, and I have never seen this level of disorganization.”
Neither the Paul nor Romney campaigns, nor a spokeswoman for the National Republican Committee, responded to requests for comment from the Bangor Daily News.
Kyle Rogers, chairman of the Sagadahoc County Republican Committee, who is running for the District 62 seat in the Maine House, said he and many others left the convention not only frustrated, but doubtful about the validity of the process.
“It was screwed up from the get-go,” said Rogers. “It seemed like anyone could get a set of credentials. There’s a process to it and the process wasn’t adhered to.”
If delegates from Maine are not allowed to participate in the GOP national convention in August, where the Republican Party’s nominee will be officially named, it means the state loses its voice on a national stage and that Paul loses votes toward the nomination.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said he expects those challenges but that from his perspective, delegates at the state convention were appointed properly.
“Before I turned over the gavel we established a process. We had a checker in each county,” said Webster. “We had those folks involved in the tabulation. In my role as chairman of the party, I’m going to go to the Republican National Convention to make sure those votes are counted.”
Jan Dolcater, Republican chairman in Knox County, who is a member of the party’s credentialing committee, agreed.
“In all fairness to both sides, it could have been a lot more smoothly coordinated and run,” he said. “It was absolutely exhausting handling people on the credentials. Most of them had been registered for less than a week.”
Bennett said he’ll “fight tooth and nail” to ensure that Maine’s delegates are seated at the national convention.
Also at the state convention, much of the State Republican Committee was replaced, according to a list of the new members compared against the old list on the Maine Republican Party’s website. On the 80-member committee — including at-large delegates and those appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, members of Maine’s congressional delegation and the Legislature — there are now 38 new faces. According to the Maine-based political blog Dirigo Blue, at least 31 of the new members were endorsed by the Paul campaign.
Asked whether he thinks his position is at risk in light of the new makeup of the state committee, Webster said he doesn’t think it is, at least not immediately. He said his term runs until December and that the only way the committee can replace the chairman is with “due cause” and a two-thirds vote.
“Besides, we’re in the middle of an election,” he said.
Webster said he shared a lot of people’s concern about the organization of the convention but that overall the influx of new people was exciting regardless of who they support for president.
“What I saw was a room full of plumbers, electricians and hairdressers joined in trying to help us change the state,” said Webster. “I’m giddy about the fact that there was a room full of blue-collar working people and I don’t care who they chose.”
While it’s the exception rather than the norm, this wasn’t the first time a party convention in Maine didn’t go as planned. Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, who in years past has been state chairman of his party, said there have been several instances when things have been shaken up at the Democratic State Convention. That includes in 1978 when Phil Merrill gave an impassioned speech that questioned the nomination of Joe Brennan for governor; in 1980 when newly appointed Secretary of State Ed Muskie showed up from a European tour to say farewell after years of service to the U.S. Senate; in 1988 when supporters of Jesse Jackson flooded the convention in opposition of eventual nominee Michael Dukakis; and more recently in 2008 when there was disagreement over whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton deserved the nomination to run for president.
“Conventions can be an opportunity to break out of the pack and articulate different issues,” said Hobbins. “This particular [Republican] convention took on a different face. Any time you come out of a convention not united, it’s problematic. It appears that what [Republicans] thought was going to be a coronation of Mitt Romney at the national convention could end up being a nightmare for them.”