TAMPA, Fla. --  Tuesday’s brief showdown between Ron Paul supporters and GOP leaders on the floor of the Republican National Convention made clear that – despite attempts to suggest otherwise at the Tampa event – not everyone within the party is aligned behind Mitt Romney.

In all likelihood, the dispute over Maine’s delegates loyal to Paul will be a mere blip of disunity during the four-day pep rally for Romney and his VP pick, Paul Ryan. But it does underscore the challenge facing GOP leaders if they want to hold onto more libertarian-minded voters and Tea Party members.

The ideological differences between the “Ron Paul Army” and many mainstream Republicans were most evident during Sunday’s rally for the Texas congressman.

Like when the crowd booed news footage of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and then, moments later, cheered images of Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s spoof news/commentary program.

Among the other topics that elicited boisterous boos from subscribers to the “Ron Paul Revolution”: military spending under President George W. Bush as well as the Iraq War, Bush’s No Child Left Behind education bill, the Patriot Act, the Transportation Security Administration and drug laws in general.

To Paul supporters, such stances should be welcomed by the Republican mainstream if the party is truly the “big tent” that it claims to be. But to some in the GOP, talk of auditing Pentagon spending, legalizing addictive drugs and restricting policing powers are more than a little hard to stomach.

And it wasn’t just Maine’s Paul devotees who were angry about Tuesday’s action on the floor.

“I think it did a whole lot of damage,” said Tyler Lindholm, an alternate delegate from Wyoming. “They did exactly what they shouldn’t have done. They should have reached out to Ron Paul in some way.”

Romney supporters, meanwhile, counter that the primaries are over and it is time for Republicans to rally behind the now-official nominee so they can beat President Obama.

Paul’s 70-minute-long, policy-laden speech to his supporters on Sunday may have been his swan song. The Texas libertarian is retiring in January after more than 30 years in Congress.

“This movement is Ron Paul’s legacy,” U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., told the rally attendees. “Now, it is our responsibility to grow it into the majority that it can be.”

But there’s already speculation that Paul’s equally libertarian-minded son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, could be back in four years with his own White House bid. And the chants of “Paul ‘16” chants whenever Rand Paul was mentioned as well as enthusiastic cheers for him on Tuesday suggest he already has a small but well-organized base.

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Open Season is your guide to the 2014 campaign. Our team of political writers has its sights set on Maine’s major elections, from the Blaine House to the U.S. Capitol.

Steve Mistler is covering the 2014 governor's race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @stevemistler

Eric Russell is covering Independent Eliot Cutler during the 2014 governor's race. He is a general assignment reporter for the Portland Press Herald.
Eric can be reached at 791-6344 or erussell@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @pphericrussell

Matt Byrne is covering Republican Paul LePage during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Falmouth, Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport for the Portland Press Herald.
Matt can be reached at 791-6303 or mbyrne@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @mattbyrnePPH

Randy Billings is covering Democrat Mike Michaud during the 2014 governor's race. He covers Portland City Hall for the Portland Press Herald.
Randy can be reached at 791-6346 or rbillings@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @randybillings

Kevin Miller is covering Maine's U.S. Senate race and 1st Congressional District race. He covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @kevinmillerdc

Michael Shepherd is covering Maine's 2nd Congressional District race. He is a news and State House reporter for the Kennebec Journal.
Michael can be reached at 621-5632 or mshepherd@centralmaine.com
On Twitter: @mikeshepherdME

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