Published Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Updated Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012 | 3:31 p.m.
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TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention is designed to be a slick made-for-TV rally to send presidential nominee Mitt Romney off on the general election campaign trail.
As a crucial battleground state — one where each voter has a greater statistical probability of individually swinging the election than in any other state — Nevada might be expected to play a starring role in that production.
But due to the vagaries of bitter infighting within the state party structure and a state convention coup by Rep. Ron Paul’s supporters, Nevada’s starring role may look like a dysfunctional sideshow instead.
Of Nevada’s 28 delegates headed to Tampa, Fla., 22 support the Texas congressman who has spawned a passionate following of libertarian-minded constitutionalists. They fully plan to use any and all methods at their disposal to launch a last-ditch effort to put Paul before the convention for a nomination vote.
“I would speculate they really feel differently about Mitt Romney being the presumed nominee,” said Wiselet Rouzard, a 25-year-old Paul delegate from Las Vegas. “How that is reflected at the Republican National Convention will make sure people across the country understand the liberty movement is pretty strong in this state.”
And as Paul’s supporters go to work, the delegation’s dynamics could also showcase the ugly rivalries within the state party — divisions deep enough to hamstring the state organization to the point the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have set up shop independently of the state party in Nevada.
For example, among those in the delegation are both the Washoe County Republican chairman and the Clark County Republican chairwoman who has called for him to be booted from the state party.
“Sending a delegation with bunch of people who are calling for my resignation, that doesn’t thrill me to death,” Washoe Chairman Dave Buell said. “Still, I’m going to go there make sure Romney and Ryan come out with flying colors. I’m going to make sure Washoe turns red for the election. That’s my main concern.”
He attributed the Paul camp’s unhappiness to jealousy that the Washoe Republican Party has accomplished more in voter registration and fundraising this cycle.
Because discord often trumps harmony when it comes to news, efforts by Paul’s supporters likely will draw attention. How big a distraction it becomes remains to be seen.
Paul’s overall strength among Republicans in Nevada is small. The Texas congressman came in third in the Nevada caucuses, with winner Romney taking more than half the vote. But his supporters are loud and organized and have a demonstrated adeptness with party rules.
In other states, the Romney campaign has begun working deals to limit the number of Paul delegates to be seated. That could antagonize Nevada’s Paul supporters but could defuse any ability for them to organize from enough states — they need five — to put Paul’s name up for nomination.
In Nevada, Romney’s campaign has largely dismissed the Paul contingent, seeing it as incapable of either threatening Romney’s nomination or creating enough of a stink to be noticed by the average voter.
“Republicans of all stripes know that we can’t afford four more years of President Obama’s failed economic policies which have left Americans in greater poverty and deeper in debt,” Romney’s Nevada spokesman Mason Harrison said. “We will work nonstop from now until November to elect Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan so that we can restore America’s promise and get our economy going again.”
But the campaign isn’t content to let the Paul supporters be the story. Nevada is, after all, crucial to Romney’s efforts to oust President Barack Obama from the White House.
Polls here are evenly split between the two candidates, who each have their own formidable strengths in the Silver State.
Romney has campaigned here consistently since his first run four years ago. He has cultivated a strong network of supporters and is well-known among Nevada’s Mormon communities.
Obama won Nevada handily four years ago, and Democrats have an extensive, well-funded turnout machine adept at registering voters, identifying supporters and getting those supporters to the polls.
To that end, Romney doesn’t want to let Nevada go unnoticed at the convention. Gov. Brian Sandoval, perhaps Nevada’s most popular Republican, had been scheduled to deliver a prime-time speech on opening night, but fears over Tropical Storm Isaac canceled most Monday events. On Sunday, a revised schedule showed that Sandoval will speak during prime time Tuesday. His presence should be a strong weapon against the focus on Nevada’s dysfunction.
Nevada also is expected to be featured in photos and videos displayed throughout the convention proceedings.
“This is a very important state, and we’re going to have to pull together to win it and to put a conservative administration in the White House,” said former Gov. Bob List, Nevada’s out-going national committeeman and a delegate for Romney. “Certainly, any lack of harmony could be embarrassing for Nevada. But I’m convinced we can pull together and win.”
List’s diplomatic tone is a stark contrast to an interview he gave shortly after Paul’s supporters ousted him from his position at the state convention in May. Then, he described them as like a “swarm of killer bees.”
Is List’s new tone emblematic of the mood expected to dominate in Tampa? List chuckled at the question.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of communication with them recently,” List said. “Hopefully things will have moderated a bit. Well, it’s just incumbent on everybody to get along.”