TAMPA, Fla. – Members of Maine’s delegation to the Republican National Convention lost their battle to reseat 10 supporters of Ron Paul on Tuesday after a brief but boisterous floor fight, during which the hall echoed with chants of “Seat Maine now!”
Moments later, Paul’s delegates and alternates from Maine — some wearing clothespins on their noses — walked out of the convention hall in protest.
With only 24 delegates, Maine’s small delegation would seem an unlikely source of the first — and what GOP officials hope will be the last — sign of disunity at Mitt Romney’s four-day nominating party.
But Maine Republicans suggested that the fight over Paul supporters could have lasting ramifications in the libertarian wing of the GOP, in Maine and elsewhere.
“It will come back home,” said Jan Staples, a Maine delegate who supports Romney and filed the original complaint challenging the election of the Paul delegates.
For several days, some Maine delegates planned their final attempt to reinstate the 10 Paul delegates who were removed by Republican National Committee officials and replaced with Romney supporters. The changes tipped Maine in Romney’s favor and helped prevent Paul from getting a prime-time speaking slot at the convention.
The Maine delegates’ self-described “Hail Mary” was thwarted by convention leader and House Speaker John Boehner.
In a voice vote by thousands of convention delegates, Boehner approved a slate of delegates and alternates that included the RNC’s new list of delegates for Maine.
Paul’s supporters from Maine tried to object by shouting into their microphone, but it apparently had been turned off.
Several minutes of confusion followed as Boehner tried to move forward with other business over booing, cries of “point of order” and chants of “Seat Maine now!” from Paul supporters.
Brent Tweed, a Paul supporter who was elected chairman of Maine’s state delegation in May, called the nominating process at the convention “a farce” and accused RNC officials of breaking their own rules to silence Paul’s supporters.
Tweed maintained that the voice vote to approve the RNC’s list of delegates was too close to call.
“It was obvious when the crowd was saying ‘Seat Maine now!’ that we had a fair number of votes,” Tweed said. “I don’t know if we had the votes. But it didn’t matter … because it was already predetermined which way (Boehner) was going to go. He decided the ‘yeses’ had it, but it was too close to call.”
Tuesday’s floor action followed weeks of political wrangling between Paul supporters, the Romney campaign and RNC officials, who are intent on staging a convention without distractions, disruptions and dissent over Romney.
Members of the national committee voted overwhelmingly last week to reshuffle Maine’s delegation, determining that the state’s delegate-selection process was marred by illegal votes and parliamentary violations.
Staples, who filed the challenge with the RNC along with Maine’s Romney campaign Chairman Peter Cianchette, said Tuesday that she filed the challenge to “preserve the integrity” of the delegate-selection process.
Maine’s pro-Paul delegates appeared to have considerable support from delegates and alternates representing Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Minnesota and several other states where Paul is popular. But rumbles from Paul supporters soon dissipated, and less than an hour later, RNC officials began the roll call of the states leading to the formal nomination.
Romney ultimately got 2,061 delegate votes — nearly double the number needed to clinch the nomination. That figure included 14 delegates from Maine, with the remaining 10 going to Paul.
Afterward, Maine’s Paul supporters lingered in the hallways off the convention floor, talking to media and commiserating with Paul’s backers from other states. Although disappointed, they promised to stay involved in Maine Republican politics.
“We are 10 times stronger now than we were an hour ago,” said Mark Willis, one of the 10 displaced Paul delegates and the incoming national Republican committeeman.
The experience appears to have left wounds on both sides, however.
Pete Harring, another displaced delegate and founder of Maine’s tea party, predicted “it is going to play out bad in Maine for the Republican Party.”
Asked whether he had regrets about being part of a dispute that could harm the party, Harring said absolutely not.
“I am at a point, and so are a lot of other people, where I am not willing to compromise my principles any longer,” Harring said before the floor action. “And if that means losing the majority (in the Maine Legislature), so be it.”
Staples, meanwhile, said she was extremely disappointed by the hostility she faced from some Paul supporters.
“I have been personally threatened at home and here,” she said. “They are harassing our people and calling us scabs. This is really unfortunate.”
Paul made an unannounced visit to the convention floor on Tuesday, about a half-hour before activities began.
Thronged by supporters and media, the longtime congressman from Texas visited the delegations of Maine and other states where he had stronger support.
Tweed told Paul about the delegates’ plans for the afternoon’s session, to which Paul replied: “Give it your best shot.”
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: