AUGUSTA, Maine — Fervent supporters of Ron Paul assumed control of the Maine Republican Party convention on Saturday with hopes of using their new power to send a majority of delegates to represent Maine at the national convention.
The narrow election late Saturday morning of Paul delegates as convention secretary and convention chairman allowed Paul’s supporters to shift the event away from the Maine GOP establishment.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster had predicted in an email last week to Republicans that Paul supporters would attempt to assert their authority at the convention and that’s exactly what happened.
“Takeover is strong word; we’re all registered Republicans here,” said Matthew McDonald of Belfast, a Waldo County Republican and a Paul supporter. “But Chairman Webster called Ron Paul supporters wingnuts, he saw us as a fringe minority; now we hold the power of the convention.”
It was a major symbolic coup for Paul supporters and a bit of a letdown for Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Ironically, Romney’s brother, Scott Romney, was scheduled to deliver the convention’s keynote address on Saturday evening.
Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, said this was his third state convention but he hasn’t experienced anything like what happened on Saturday.
“What has taken six or seven hours today is normally done in 15 to 20 minutes,” he joked. “I think this is the last stand of the Paul supporters and it’s certainly their right to do it. This is a prime example of why we should go to a primary instead of caucus.”
Even before the convention kicked off in earnest Saturday morning, there was a buzz around the event.
Would Webster face a backlash for apparently bending the rules to name a convention chairman ahead of time and not at the convention? Would Ron Paul supporters “take over” the convention, as Webster feared? Would what is supposed to be a party-building gathering devolve into a fractured mess?
Those questions were answered by lunchtime: Yes, yes and yes.
In extremely close votes late Saturday morning, convention-goers elected Ron Morrell, a Paul delegate, as secretary and then elected Brent Tweed, also a Paul delegate, as chairman.
Both were picked ahead of candidates that had been endorsed by the party establishment and those votes signaled a shift in how the convention would unfold.
After hours of confusion, a break for lunch and a 20-minute speech by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the convention resumed with Tweed holding the gavel instead of Webster.
From there, things didn’t get any smoother.
Convention-goers began the process of nominating delegates to represent Maine at the national GOP convention in Tampa in late August.
Maine gets 24 delegates. Three delegates already were spoken for before the convention. Those spots go to the state party’s national committeeman, national committeewoman and the current chairman, Webster.
Six more delegates will be picked by the congressional district committees — three from the 1st District, three from the 2nd — and that is expected on Sunday.
That leaves 15 at-large delegates that were to be selected on Saturday. Paul needs 13 of them to break for him and if that happens, it means he would effectively win Maine. It also would reverse a February announcement by the Maine GOP that Romney had won the state, according to a controversial presidential preference poll that helped galvanize Paul’s supporters.
Time seemed to be running out on Saturday for those at-large delegates to be selected. That piece of business likely will be decided either late Saturday evening or on Sunday morning.
Asked whether the convention chaos would hurt the party, Timberlake said he thinks just the opposite will happen.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to be united,” he said.
The convention began early Saturday with more than 3,000 Maine Republicans filing into the Augusta Civic Center. The event continued throughout the day on Saturday and was scheduled to resume on Sunday.
In addition to Scott Romney and Collins, the featured speakers on Saturday included U.S. House candidates Jonathan Courtney and Patrick Calder in the 1st District and Kevin Raye and Blaine Richardson in the 2nd District.
On Sunday, Gov. Paul LePage, Sen. Olympia Snowe and the six Republicans who want to take over her seat are expected to address the convention.