WASHINGTON — The political tug-of-war over Maine’s delegation to the Republican National Convention continued Thursday as national party leaders moved to take half of the seats held by elected supporters of Ron Paul and fill them with delegates who are likely to support Mitt Romney.
While most who planned to attend the convention warily watched the track of Tropical Storm Isaac, Maine Republicans were in a self-made storm that began in May and could last until Monday if Paul supporters pursue every appeal.
“We are going to fight … to get everyone seated,” said Brent Tweed, the chairman of the Maine delegation and a Paul supporter. “Our stance is still that we were duly elected and we feel it is unfair what they have done.”
Members of the Republican National Committee recommended Thursday splitting in half the contingent of 20 Maine delegates who support Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas who is far behind Romney in total delegates.
Ten of Maine’s seats would be kept by delegates elected by Paul’s supporters during the chaotic Maine GOP convention in May. Eleven seats would be filled by new delegates — many of them familiar Republicans — who would presumably support Romney.
The new slate of delegates put forward by the RNC includes high-profile Maine Republicans including Attorney General Bill Schneider, Secretary of State Charlie Summers, former U.S. Rep. David Emery and several state lawmakers.
Paul’s supporters plan to appeal the recommendation before the convention’s Credentials Committee, which meets Friday.
Factoring in three seats held by state party leaders, Romney will take a solid majority of Maine’s delegates if the RNC’s decision is upheld.
Although it won’t be needed for Romney to secure the nomination, carrying Maine is important to Republican leaders, who are intent on showing unity behind Romney during the made-for-TV convention.
It could also play into whether convention officials are required to give Paul a prime-time speaking role as a formal nominee.
The RNC’s actions angered Paul’s supporters, who pledged to continue fighting to seat all 20 of the elected pro-Paul delegates.
“I feel betrayed a bit by my party, by the RNC,” said Matt McDonald, a delegate from Belfast who did not make the cut on the RNC’s revised list. But he, like other members of the delegation, was not giving up.
“I’m going to Tampa and I expect to be seated as a delegate,” he said. “I was fairly elected as a delegate by Republicans in the state of Maine.”
The RNC’s Contests Committee recommended splitting the delegation after considering a challenge filed by two Maine Republicans, Jan Staples and Peter Cianchette, Romney supporters who are heavily involved in GOP politics.
Staples and Cianchette argued that the 20 Paul delegates were improperly elected at a state convention with illegal votes and parliamentary violations.
As Maine’s Republican committeewoman, Staples is one of the three automatic delegates, who aren’t affected by Thursday’s ruling. She has said she was prompted to challenge the slate of delegates by her commitment to procedure, not her support for Romney.
Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said Thursday that the Contests Committee concluded “there were so many mistakes made by the party, by the credentialing committee and by the chairman of the convention … that it wasn’t a legitimate election.”
The committee did not respond to a request for comment, or a request for a statement explaining its decision.
Webster said the committee hoped that Maine’s 20 Paul delegates would agree to the split. It went ahead and named the people who will represent Maine after it became clear that the two sides could not reach an agreement.
Webster said he believes that all 20 delegates might have been seated if they had agreed to an earlier compromise he offered. “The Ron Paul contingent rolled the dice and took the chance,” Webster said.
Stavros Mendros, a former Maine House member and a Paul delegate who’s already in Tampa, worried that the RNC’s decision could set a precedent.
Mendros, who has been active in GOP politics for 30-plus years, blamed most of the convention’s confusion and procedural problems on Romney supporters who disrupted the meeting by objecting to every action.
Secretary of State Summers, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe, was planning to spend only one day in Tampa. His campaign spokesman, Lance Dutson, said they were surprised to see Summers’ name on the list of new delegates.
Although Summers would serve as a delegate if needed, he would prefer that the issue be resolved in a way that satisfies all parties and ensures that Mainers’ voices are heard during the convention, Dutson said.
“We are focused on the election right now,” Dutson said. “He is not actively pursuing a role as a delegate at the convention.”
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: