ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Mitt Romney might be the Republican Party’s presumed nominee for president, but maverick candidate Ron Paul scored the bigger win Saturday at Minnesota’s state Republican Convention.
The Texas congressman’s backers seized control of the state convention, claiming 12 of 13 open delegate slots to the GOP national convention in August. The 13th slot went to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who failed to win it on the first ballot. Her opponent, a Paul supporter, conceded out of respect.
Previously, 27 delegates were chosen. In all, 32 of Minnesota’s 40 delegates are confirmed to support Paul over Romney.
Paul appeared at the convention on both Friday and Saturday. He’s no longer actively campaigning against Romney, but has said he intends to make a last stand at the national GOP convention in Tampa. His supporters hope to secure him a more prominent role there and also gain greater support within the GOP for his libertarian-leaning views.
But even the most fervent Paul fans acknowledged Romney is likely to be President Barack Obama’s opponent in November. Sitting in a convention hall festooned with Romney signs on the walls, more than a handful said they weren’t sure if they would vote for the former Massachusetts governor.
“Absolutely not,” said Nathan Atkins, a Republican convention delegate and Paul backer from Minneapolis. “I really don’t think he’s that different than Barack Obama. He doesn’t represent change.”
Atkins was wearing a tinfoil hat, a nod to more traditional GOP activists who have ridiculed Paul’s backers as paranoid conspiracy theorists. He said if Paul isn’t on the presidential ballot, he’d likely vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.
Paul and his backers support deep cuts to government spending, the abolition of the Federal Reserve and a return to gold currency, a more reserved U.S. foreign policy with stronger limits on military engagement overseas, stronger protection of civil liberties and ending federal enforcement of drug laws.
Justin Campbell, a GOP delegate from St. Louis Park and a Paul backer, said he felt a part of “the most important political movement of our time.” He also said he wouldn’t vote for Romney because the ex-governor supports a level of military spending he finds objectionable.
“I realize that’s not being a good Republican, but you have to draw a line in the sand — and that’s my line in the sand,” Campbell said.
Others were more receptive to voting for Romney. Fred Zellinger, a convention delegate from Bloomington, called Romney “a typical politician” but said he thinks beating Obama is more important. He said the forces Paul unleashed with his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns are bigger than the man himself.
“Ron Paul is a brand name,” Zellinger said. “It’s the values that I support. Ron Paul is just the current vessel for them, but there will be others.”
Corey Sax, who will be a GOP alternate to the national convention, said Romney would have to work at winning over the Paul people.
“He needs to be thinking about what he can be doing to get us behind him,” Sax said.
On Friday, the Paul forces largely united to help state Rep. Kurt Bills win the party’s endorsement for U.S. Senate. They teamed up again Saturday on the delegate election, making themselves the overwhelming majority in the national convention delegation.
Some Minnesota Republicans were angered. One conservative activist, John Gilmore, distributed a flier describing the Paul group as the “convention chaos slate.” He predicted the group would “embarrass Minnesota Republicans and harm our party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama.”
But Jeff Johnson, who represents the state party on the Republican National Committee, defended the Paul backers.
“To the Ron Paul haters, who want to purge the party of the Ron Paul people, my advice to you is get over it,” Johnson said. “If we don’t grow, we die as a party.”
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