AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Republican Party convention devolved into full-blown chaos over the weekend, first on Saturday as supporters of Ron Paul successfully took control and then on Sunday as they secured a majority of the state’s national delegates.
The 2012 state GOP convention, held over two days at the Augusta Civic Center, signaled a division within the party that appears to have intensified since the presidential caucuses in February.
Over the course of several hours on Saturday and Sunday, the convention agenda was altered, delegates votes were counted and recounted and nearly every decision was challenged on the floor. When the dust settled, Ron Paul supporters secured victories, but it seemed that no one was happy.
“The national GOP is going to throw out what happened here. I think every rule in the book has [been] broken here,” said Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner. “If they were going to take [the convention] over, they needed to be prepared.”
The mood of the convention turned particularly sour late Sunday afternoon. The agenda was altered so much that the six Republican candidates for U.S. Senate didn’t even get a chance to address the full convention. Some gave their own impromptu speeches elsewhere inside the Augusta Civic Center.
“This should be the place to come together. Every two years we get one chance to get together in one place and hear from candidates and make important decisions and it’s been, it’s been a mess,” said William Schneider, Maine’s attorney general and one of the six GOP candidates.
The mess started on Saturday, when Brent Tweed, a Paul supporter, narrowly was elected to chair the event instead of the party establishment’s choice, Charles Cragin. The votes signified what some called a Paul “takeover,” something Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster predicted last week.
Paul supporters have employed this strategy in states across the country. Nevada Republicans, who were holding their convention Saturday, also expected a strong Paul showing. Paul’s supporters said he needed delegate majorities in six states to address the convention and either Maine or Nevada could put him over the top.
They hope to use their power to ensure that Paul has a place at the national convention. Mitt Romney is the presumptive GOP nominee and has won an overwhelming majority of state delegates so far.
“Takeover is a 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.”
By mid-afternoon Sunday, Paul supporters had secured 18 of Maine’s 24 delegates to represent the state at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
Cragin, a Romney supporter, called the turn of events “bizarre.” He also predicted that the Paul-led delegation may not be seated 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.
Paul has not won a state so far and has just 83 delegates, according an Associated Press count. Romney is less than 300 delegates away from the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. The other two candidates with delegates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have since dropped out of the race.
But Paul has not dropped out of the race and his backers are fervent. In Maine, they have been particularly galvanized since a February announcement by the Maine GOP that Mitt Romney had won the state.
Now Paul looks like he has effectively won Maine.
Each congressional district selects three delegates. In the 1st District, Linda Bean, Aaron Libby and Ron Morrell — all Paul supporters — were picked ahead of big-name Republicans including Charlie Summers, Peter Cianchette, David Emery and Jonathan Courtney. The delegates from the 2nd District had not yet been selected as of 5 p.m.
Additionally, the slate of 15 at-large delegates offered by the Paul contingent were: Gov. Paul LePage, Brent Tweed, Pete Haring, Ashley Ryan, Bryan Daugherty, Matt McDonald, Mike Wallace, Eric Brakey, Sam Canders, Kevin Pierce, John Jones, Erin Daly, Bernie Johnson, Landon St. Pierre and Alex Titcomb.
Other than LePage, most of the names are relative unknowns. Still, they were picked ahead of several big names in the Maine Republican establishment, including Secretary of State Summers, former gubernatorial candidate Cianchette, U.S. House candidate Courtney and former U.S. Rep. Emery, among others.