Updated with results from May 5 and 6 state conventions.
Mitt Romney wants nothing more than to lock up the Republican nomination and focus entirely on beating President Obama. But for Ron Paul’s supporters, the long primary season ain’t over till it’s over. The Texas congressman hasn’t won a single primary in his third run for the White House, yet his acolytes are much savvier at political maneuvering than in campaigns past. This year they’re determined to influence the nominating process at the GOP convention in Tampa.
To win the so-called roll call vote there and become the nominee, you need 1,144 delegates. Romney has 847. Paul has 80. Contest over, right?
Paul is actually gaining ground in some states, where intense contests to divvy up delegates are underway. At one recent gathering in Massachusetts, the majority of delegates elected were Paul supporters. Same story this past weekend in Maine and Nevada. Paul may do just as well in upcoming votes in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado, according to Josh Putnam, assistant political science professor at Davidson College.
That doesn’t mean Paul’s going to steal the nomination from Romney in Tampa. But his delegates could shake things up right when the party’s supposed to unify behind a single candidate. They could start off by calling for a floor vote, and then jump up in blocs to nominate Paul, one state after another. He isn’t likely to actually get the nomination that way, but multiple states clamoring for him would embarrass the party and make things more difficult for Romney in the months before November.
To fend off that political nightmare, Romney may have to offer concessions to Paul. Perhaps give him the microphone and let him speak in Tampa. Or incorporate some of his ideas into party platforms that the GOP will hash out in Tampa.
Lots of Paul’s ideas—legalizing pot, withdrawing all U.S. troops immediately from Afghanistan, ending most foreign aid—are still too radical for the right. Then again, Paul has campaigned to abolish the Federal Reserve for years, and his bill to audit the Fed passed in the House in 2010 with the majority of Republicans supporting it. Tea partiers have wholly embraced his concept of a limited government that doesn’t stray from the language of the Constitution. Clearly some of Paul’s ideas have found their way into the party, which is what Paul’s delegates are really after.