Arizona senator John McCain may lay claim to being the Republican party's presumptive nominee, but efforts to shape the party behind the scenes during this presidential election year continue. While the much of the talk has centered around McCain uniting the various segments of the party behind him as the Democrats continue to wage a battle for their nomination, stories of dissension among the ranks continue to surface (and get lost in the headlines about bowling and sniper fire and "bitter" comments). Much of the dissension has been driven by Ron Paul (or at least by his supporters). And even though the Texas congressman scaled back his presidential efforts in the lead up to his early March congressional seat primary, those supporters have carried on, influencing the nomination system by alternate means.
What's on the table? Though Paul has admitted that winning the nomination isn't going to happen (see above link and a more recent reminder following the Texas primary), message boards devoted to the candidate's presidential run and the libertarian ideas he backs are littered with how to guides on how Paul can still become the nominee. Whether that is the unifying cry from these members of the Ron Paul Revolution though, is beside the point. That goal may never be realized but the byproduct of those efforts may influence to some extent who the delegates to September's convention are and the direction of state and national party platforms. And both may cause headaches for John McCain at a convention that is supposed to be all about him and his run for the White House.
It was easy early on to dismiss these stories as rabble rousing, but more and more evidence of these sorts of efforts has emerged to indicate that it is more than simply coincidence. The big questions then are, where are Paul supporters making inroads and in what ways? Much of this can be viewed through the lens of which type of delegate selection event a state uses, primary or caucus. As has been demonstrated in this space over the last few weeks (see posts on The Caucus Question here, here and here), caucuses offer an opportunity for a bit more delegate tweaking. This has been discussed in the context of the race for the Democratic nomination, but Ron Paul (or at least his supporters) has taken advantage of the caucuses as well. In Minnesota, Nevada and Washington (all caucus states) Paul has parlayed his initial showings into various levels of success.
In Minnesota, Paul supporters overran the congressional district caucuses during the first weekend in April and managed to win six of the twelve national convention delegates at stake during that phase of the process.
After placing a distant second in the Nevada caucuses in January, Paul stands a good chance of sending some delegates to the national convention from the Silver state after the next step, the state convention on April 26. He will be speaking at that convention as well. There's no better way to drum up some extra support than by making an appearance. It will be interesting to see if John McCain, who finished third behind Paul in the state, will show up to speak as well. There are an awful lot of Romney delegates available since the former Massachusetts governor secured a victory with over 51% of the vote.
Following a solid showing during the Washington caucuses in early February (Paul was third in a four candidate cluster with each winning between 15 and 26%), Paul supporters have pushed some Paul delegates through to the state convention. There is evidence of this out of Jefferson County and plenty of other anecdotal, yet unconfirmed, incidents of this in other parts of Washington as well.*
In primary states, the rules are much more clear cut and there obviously aren't as many steps in the process. People vote and the the outcome directly affects the number of delegates allocated to the winning candidate or candidates. The route Paul supporters have gone in several primary states has been to operate through the state party apparatus to influence delegate selection rules and state party platforms. The process then, to elect delegates to the state conventions in some primary states have seen increased participation from Ron Paul supporters. Again, this has no direct bearing on the national convention delegates allocated in the primary, but a Paul presence could affect those allocation rules and the platform planks decided upon in the state party platform.
In Florida, this has meant that some Paul backers have been blocked in their efforts to become precinct captains and to make it on to the Republican Executive Committee in the Sunshine state. The objective of Paul supporters is clear: to influence the Republican party's agenda in the state.
Paul supporters in Missouri found more success, hijacking several county caucuses in the Show-Me state. In Jackson County (in the Kansas City area) there was enough Paul support to send over 175 delegates to the next level of the caucus process. Those 175 will have some influence over the 55 delegates the state will send to the GOP convention and over the platform that emerges from the state convention.
The situation was similar in Oklahoma, where only one of the state's five congressional district conventions failed to send at least one Paul supporter on to the state convention next month. And while the rules require delegates to vote for the primary's victorious candidate, there is some indication that the Paul backers at the convention will attempt to change those rules in order to send some of their own to the national convention.
Paul's home state of Texas also saw action to push the Paul agenda onto the national party's radar. In both Travis and Tarrant Counties, Paul's supporters were able win or draw in senate districts in both counties.
In isolation these events don't seem to make that much of a difference in the race for the Republican nomination. Together however, they add up to a potential problem for McCain and the national party at their September convention in St. Paul, MN. The more Paul delegates that make it through to state and national conventions, the more Paul's agenda will be discussed. And what that translates into is a battle over the platform and potential ideological fissure within the GOP. So while all the talk has been about division within the Democratic party, something appears to be brewing on the Republican side as well. And the division here isn't over who is best able to answer and deal with a 3am phone call, it is division that gets to the heart of some basic Republican principles. The heights this grows to though depends in large measure on how many Paul delegates can make it through the process. Thus far, it has been more than one might expect given recent coverage of the race for the White House.
*There is an awful lot of material online to support such events happening across Washington as well as in other parts of the country. My rule on this is to only proceed with information that has been verified by, at least, a local news outlet. If it has been mentioned on any of the various Ron Paul Forums, and only there, such events were excluded. There is talk that similar sorts of activities have taken place in Alaska, Colorado and Louisiana as well. Most of the sources there are Ron Paul-related sources though.
[Thanks to campaign discussion group participant and UGA grad student, Patrick Rhamey, for planting this idea in my head.]