DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Ron Paul has given up on becoming president, but loyal supporters are promising to promote the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman’s principles at the Republican national convention this summer, a potential complication for Mitt Romney’s goal of a peaceful coronation.
Paul backers have taken over state Republican conventions Nevada and Maine, and had a strong showing this weekend in Iowa, aiming to increase their voice and clout at the nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.
“We want to send Ron Paul-inspired folks to that convention to show we’re not going away,” says Iowa Republican David Fischer, a top Paul backer in the state.
Supporters say they hope to promote Paul’s conservative principles, which have attracted a strong following of young voters and tea party activists, by flooding ballots for the convention and urging changes to the party platform.
Since Paul’s unsuccessful 2008 candidacy for the GOP nomination, his top organizers have set about working within the party’s structure to gain influence. The hope is to bend it toward principles he espouses, chiefly smaller government, sound monetary policy and a limited international military presence.
Paul stopped campaigning last month after netting only 137 of the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. His son, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, a national tea party figure, has endorsed Romney.
In Maine, 21-year-old Ron Paul supporter Ashley Ryan was elected the state’s new Republican national committeewoman, a testament to what supporters see as new blood the Paul campaign has attracted to the GOP.
That’s in addition to taking top roles in state party organizations, in states such as Iowa, and inspiring statehouse candidates around the country. For instance, A.J. Spiker, who ran Paul’s campaign for Iowa’s leadoff nominating caucuses, was elected state GOP chairman in February.
Louisiana GOP officials and Paul supporters tangled during a raucous June 2 convention that devolved into two separate conventions and separate delegate slates. Two Paul backers were arrested after they refused to leave.
Paul’s idled candidacy didn’t slow the hunt for delegate slots on the ballot at Saturday’s Iowa GOP convention in Des Moines. The majority of delegates to the national convention elected by Iowa Republicans will be Paul backers.
Paul’s following argues that the campaign has always been about more than electing a president.
“It’s never been about a man. It’s about liberty, and turning the tide,” said Marianne Stebbins, Paul’s Minnesota state director. She was elected a national delegate on May 18.
Although Romney seldom attacked Paul during the primary campaign, Paul supporters remain cool to him. Many consider Romney part of the GOP establishment’s complicity in the soaring federal debt, another top concern for Paul.
Paul may speak at the national convention, as it’s become customary for onetime rivals to take the podium to show unity. But supporters have faced some resistance to their plans to hold a three-day Paul rally on the eve of the convention.
Supporters of Paul, who has called for the dissolution of the Federal Reserve Bank, expect to propose that the party support less contentious planks such as greater transparency for the central bank and increased Internet freedom.
There’s likely to be sharp debate over their efforts to repeal the Patriot Act, a measure enacted to hunt for terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that Paul argues abridges civil liberties. Likewise, his opposition to torture could lead to a fight over harsh interrogation tactics.
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