Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is scheduled as a keynote speaker at the Maine Republican Party convention in May, sparking questions of favoritism in a caucus process that has already seen its share of controversy. The virtual photo-finish between Paul and Mitt Romney in the state GOP straw poll means Maine’s delegates, awarded at the convention, are up for grabs, and the potential advantage derived from Paul’s speaking spot has been noted by the Romney campaign.
According to sources, Ron Paul will be the featured speaker on Saturday, May 5, at the Augusta Civic Center. The state GOP convention is a two-day affair, May 5 and 6, and will be the final accounting of an unusually contentious presidential campaign in Maine. Though Romney narrowly won the unofficial straw poll earlier this year, Maine’s delegates have not been apportioned yet, and this means votes can still be swayed.
Insiders have expressed concern about the reaction of the Romney campaign, and sources tell The Maine Wire that Paul’s speaking engagement has led to some contentious exchanges behind the scenes. State Republican Party chairman Charlie Webster, however, said he hadn’t received pushback from the Romney campaign, and that he was “reasonably optimistic” that Romney or a family member would be able to speak at the convention as well.
“We reached out to all the campaigns early and said ‘If you want to come, come.’” Webster said that Ron Paul’s son, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, was originally planning to speak at the convention, and was surprised when the campaign called and said the presidential candidate himself would be coming.
Sources close to the party say many fear Paul’s role at the convention will alienate the Romney team. Webster dismissed the idea that a disgruntled Romney campaign could be a problem for Maine in the general election, and says he has no doubt Maine’s electoral votes are winnable for a Republican, especially in light of recent changes to the state’s congressional districts.
During presidential campaign years, the major national political parties set up ‘Victory’ campaigns in each state. These statewide campaigns have the potential to bring in millions of dollars to set up call centers, organize volunteer efforts, and provide the infrastructure that is shared by all candidates on the ballot, including state legislative candidates.Insiders fear a post-primary Romney camp may devote fewer resources to Maine if they are alienated during the primary process.
The Paul campaign has become more active in Maine in recent weeks. Operatives from the national campaign have set up camp at GOP headquarters in Augusta, working with the state party to organize the list of delegates for May’s convention. Access to the delegate list has been seen as an advantage in the past, and boiled over in controversy during 2010’s GOP gubernatorial primary. Supporters of then-candidate Paul LePage cried foul when the Steve Abbott campaign sent a campaign email to the delegates before other campaigns had received the list. Charges of favoritism reached a fever pitch when Webster was recorded by tea party activists claiming the Abbott team stole the list, a charge flatly denied by the Abbott campaign. This history of controversy over the delegate list has some insiders questioning the Ron Paul campaign’s role in compiling it.
Maine’s GOP primary delegates are a drop in the overall electoral bucket, representing only 24 of a total of 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. However, Romney’s difficulty in securing what was once considered a runaway victory in the GOP primary has added extra symbolism to the contests even in small states.
Also at play is the post-primary relationship between the state party apparatus and what could be the future presidential administration. Failing to deliver Maine’s handful of delegates for the winning candidate could be seen as a black mark for the Maine GOP. However, the grassroots fervor of the Ron Paul campaign could mean trouble for the party establishment on the ground, and the emerging threat of a hostile party takeover has become a serious concern.
Whether it coalesces the Republican faithful or exacerbates longstanding fissures within the party, Ron Paul’s role at the state convention is shaping up to be a watershed moment in the future of the Maine GOP.