DES MOINES, Iowa — Ron Paul has given up on becoming president. Yet supporters still clinging to the slim-to-none hope of nominating the libertarian-leaning congressman could complicate Mitt Romney’s goal of a peaceful GOP national convention.
Paul backers have been taking over state Republican conventions in places such as Nevada and Maine and plan to do the same in Iowa on Saturday in their effort to carry his banner to the national convention in Tampa, Fla.
“We want to send Ron Paul-inspired folks to that convention to show we’re not going away,” says Iowa Republican David Fischer, a top Paul backer in the state.
Supporters say they hope to promote Paul’s conservative principles that have sparked a loyal following of young voters and tea party activists by flooding ballots for the convention and urging changes to the party platform.
Since Paul’s unsuccessful 2008 candidacy for the GOP nomination, his top organizers have set about working within the party’s structure to gain influence, all with the hope of bending it toward principles he espouses: smaller government, sound monetary policy and a limited international military presence.
Paul stopped campaigning last month after netting only 137 of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. His son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a national tea party figure, has endorsed Romney.
Paul’s impossible odds didn’t discourage activists from seizing 32 of the 40 national delegates last month at Minnesota’s GOP convention.
In Maine, 21-year-old Ron Paul supporter Ashley Ryan was elected the state’s new Republican national committeewoman, a testament to what supporters see as new blood the Paul campaign has attracted to the GOP.
That’s in addition to seizing top roles in state party organizations, in states such as Iowa, and inspiring statehouse candidates around the country. For instance, A.J. Spiker, who ran Paul’s campaign for Iowa’s leadoff nominating caucuses, was elected state GOP chairman in February.
Louisiana GOP officials and Paul supporters tangled during a raucous June 2 convention that devolved into two separate conventions and separate delegate slates. Two Paul backers were arrested after they refused to leave.
And Paul’s idled candidacy isn’t expected to dampen the hunt for as many of the 25 delegate slots on the ballot at Saturday’s Iowa GOP convention in Des Moines.
Paul’s following argues that the campaign has always been about more than electing a president.
“It’s never been about a man. It’s about liberty, and turning the tide,” said Marianne Stebbins, Paul’s Minnesota state director. She was elected a national delegate on May 18.
Although Romney seldom attacked Paul during the primary campaign, Paul supporters remain cool to him. Many consider Romney part of the GOP establishment’s complicity in the soaring federal debt, another top concern for Paul.
Paul may speak at the national convention, as it’s become customary for one-time rivals to take the podium to show unity. But supporters have faced some resistance to their plans to hold a three-day Paul rally on the eve of the convention.
Supporters of Paul, who has called for the dissolution of the Federal Reserve Bank, expect to propose that the party support less controversial planks such as greater transparency for the central bank and increased Internet freedom.
There’s likely to be sharp debate over their efforts to repeal the Patriot Act, a measure enacted to hunt for terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that Paul argues abridges civil liberties. Likewise, his opposition to torture could lead to a fight over harsh interrogation tactics.