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POLITICS:

Does Ron Paul loyalists’ revolution have any ammo?

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Paul Takahashi

Lawn signs supporting GOP presidential candidates Ron Paul and Mitt Romney line the parking lot at Centennial High School in the far northwest Las Vegas Valley on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

Updated Thursday, May 10, 2012 | 9:05 a.m.

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Confused by this weekend’s Republican convention?

No one blames you.

Yes, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Nevada caucuses in February, capturing 50 percent of the vote.

Why then, did this weekend’s headlines read that Texas Rep. Ron Paul won almost all of Nevada’s national delegates?

For that, we have the country’s cumbersome and arcane system for nominating presidential candidates to blame. You see, a simple vote doesn’t determine the winner when you’re talking presidential politics.

Here is a six-part primer to help you make sense of strange results and what it all means once Republicans arrive in Tampa, Fla., for their national convention.

    • Surrounded by U.S. secret service agents, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with supporters at the Nevada Republican caucus Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

      Mitt Romney won the caucuses, but Ron Paul won the state convention. How’d that happen?

      The caucuses — which Romney won handily — are simply the first step in selecting delegates to the national convention, which in modern times has become a highly choreographed coronation of the party’s presidential nominee.

      At the caucuses, delegates to the county convention are elected. At the county convention, state delegates are elected. And at the state convention, national delegates are elected.

      Generally, it doesn’t matter who actually goes as a delegate because the nominee is already decided.

      In this case, Paul’s supporters have decided to see the process through, flooding the conventions at the county and state levels with enough supporters to elect Paul loyalists to the national convention.

    • In the arms of his mom, Tommy Sholeff holds an "I love Mitt" sign in support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while attending the Nevada Republican caucus Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  From left, Emily, Jim, Amy, Tommy and Katie Sholeff.

      But aren’t they subverting the will of the voters?

      Romney’s campaign might argue that. (Note a campaign spokesperson’s focus on the caucus tally when asked to comment this week on the convention results.)

      Indeed, Romney won 16,486 votes in the caucus to Paul’s 6,175.

      But Paul’s supporters reject the notion entirely that they’re subverting anything, noting they are simply seeing the entire process through. The caucuses and primaries are almost never the last word on who becomes the nominee.

      Generally, when one candidate opens up an insurmountable lead, the other candidates will drop out and all of the delegates will back the nominee apparent. Paul is intent on testing the question of: Well, what happens if you don’t drop out?

      His effort isn’t entirely unprecedented.

      In 2008, the Democratic primary dragged on until summer, with neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton locking up enough delegate wins to determine a clear front-runner.

      In that case, both campaigns were forced to ensure their supporters turned out in force to the county and state conventions in Nevada to ensure their opponent didn’t gain an upper hand in the delegate count.

    • Ron Paul supporters wave campaign signs at the Nevada state GOP convention at John Ascauaga's Nugget on Saturday, May 5, 2012.

      Why does it matter if Paul loyalists go to Tampa? They have to vote for Romney anyway, right?

      In Nevada’s case, the answer is yes.

      Paul will send 22 loyalists to Tampa. Romney will send six.

      But to win its coveted early caucus state status, Nevada had to promise to make the results of the caucus binding. Under those rules, 20 of the national delegates must vote for Romney on the first round of balloting and eight must vote for Paul.

      But if for some reason Romney doesn’t get 1,144 delegate votes at the national convention — or 50 percent — another round of balloting is held and all of the delegates are free to vote for whomever they please.

      And wait, there’s more!

      If Paul delegates succeed in capturing a majority of delegates from just five states — which they are well on their way to accomplishing — they can nominate Paul from the convention floor.

      Of course, they’d still need 1,144 votes to crown him the nominee.

    • Wait a minute; what about Rule 38?

      And here enters the endless arguments over how to interpret the Republican Party’s arcane nominating rules.

      Rule 38 is a favorite of Paul supporters because it seems to imply that the state is not allowed to bind delegates at all.

      Referred to as the Unit Rule, the measure says “no delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound” by any state’s attempt to impose the “unit rule.”

      According to Josh Putnam, a scholar on the presidential nominating process at Davidson College in North Carolina, the rule is a throwback from the days when party bosses would strong-arm a state delegation into backing a single candidate.

      Most party officials and observers say it doesn’t apply to states that have binding caucuses.

      The problem for the RNC, as Putnam notes, is that the rule is still on the books and opens up an interpretation argument for Paul’s backers.

    • OK, but the RNC rules clearly say a delegate can abstain from the vote. Wouldn’t that set Paul loyalists free from voting for Romney?

      Well, probably not.

      In practice, when a majority of delegates decide they are going to abstain from the nominating vote, that state’s delegation is skipped over in the roll call.

      Putnam said the rules aren’t clear what happens after all of the states vote and the skipped states get a second shot at it. If they abstain again, it could create an endless “feedback loop where the convention gets stuck.”

      But Nevada Republican Secretary Jim DeGraffenreid notes that the roll call vote doesn’t allow individual delegates to shout out their vote.

      Instead, the delegation chair submits the state’s total. In Nevada’s case, the chair would shout out 20 votes for Romney and eight votes for Paul.

      Any delegate looking to circumvent that bind would likely be replaced by an alternate delegate, DeGraffenreid said. And all of the alternates elected at the state convention are Romney supporters.

    • So, if Paul’s supporters can’t nominate him, what’s the point of all this work?

      First, it’s not totally impossible — highly unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility — for Paul to put together a patchwork collection of 1,144 national delegates. They could potentially win over delegates from Newt Gingrich’s and Rick Santorum’s failed presidential bids or continue on their caucus-state strategy of controlling state conventions.

      But, in the end, not all of them are convinced that the only victory is the nomination. They want to infuse the Republican Party with Paul’s brand of libertarian, non-interventionist and small-government politics. With enough supporters at the national convention, they’ll receive national news coverage, could influence the platform and even make life difficult enough for Romney that he’s forced to reach some kind of deal with Paul.

      “Romney would have to give something,” Paul’s Nevada chairman, Carl Bunce, said. “Who knows what that could be? It depends on how many delegates we get and how much leverage we have.”

      Putnam said the RNC and Romney will be highly motivated to avoid any disruption to their choreographed convention.

      “This potentially could be very messy for them,” Putnam said. “It would behoove them to come up with whatever they can to avoid that.”

    CORRECTION: This story has been edited to better reflect Paul's foreign policy views. While he is a proponent of ending all foreign wars and foreign aid, he's a proponent of open trade with other countries. | (May 10, 2012)

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    1. Ron & his Pauloonies...

      "We got GUMPTION!"
      (Not much else, but I'll give em' gumption).

      gumption/gmpSHn/
      Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness.
      (Dictionary.com)

      Eddie "The Eagle" Hamilton...
      My friend, you will find solace in your brethren the TeaNuts, sir!

      I am STOKED for the Republican Convention...
      Dang, we are talkin' about an assemblage of folk right out of...of...Appalachia!
      A brokered Clown Convention;
      CHOCK FULL O' NUTS.
      Ron Paul DESERVES a seat at THAT table!

      Michelle Bachman for President...
      Of SWITZERLAND!!!

      Woo hoo!
      A sweltering summer of sizzling, tea-swizzling hoop-de-dooin', coming right up!

    2. Ron Paul....shootin' blanks!

    3. Want to know why the circus is still in town and being ran by the Paul folks? Go look at "EDDIE "In Liberty" HAMILTON's" web site. That will show you how low this country has become. It is great for early morning laughs. They have the power to keep the circus going but they won't ever get elected into office. There are enough of us left with common sense to not let that happen.

    4. That's it. Keep distorting the truth and underestimating the appeal of the constitutional message being sent by Ron Paul. At your own peril.

    5. Isolationist? Really? Let's take a quick look -

      Ron Paul wants to implement diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba - a nation the US isolated ourselves from 40 years ago in a very different time. Is this the move of an isolationist?

      Ron Paul's foreign policy is one of non-intervention. The philosophy of non-intervention can best be summed up by a quote from Thomas Jefferson, "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Need proof that non-interventionism works? Look no further than Vietnam - our interventionist, empire-building foreign policy closed us off from that nation for decades. Now we have friendly relations with them as a result of TRADE and COMMERCE.

    6. Ron Paul gets discounted by the major news outlets - hope he manages to raise some good hell like stopping the automatic nomination of Mitt Romney the etch a sketch guy