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Convention rules fight flares in Tampa despite reports of a deal

Some conservatives are not satisfied with a proposed deal to avoid a fight on the convention floor over Republican Party rules for future presidential primaries.

Disgruntled conservatives say the proposed rules changes are an effort by inside-the-Beltway consultants and party leaders to wrest influence away from grassroots activists.

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Conservatives on the convention rules committee are trying to round up 28 signatures in support of an effort to abolish the proposed changes. If 28 rules committee members — about 25 percent of the panel — sign the petition, it could lead to a roll-call vote on the convention floor on the issue. A roll-call vote would also need to receive support from six state delegations.

“I sent around an email late last night informing over a thousand delegates that the minority report is very much alive and well. Since [the rules committee] adjournment Friday there have been additional people signing on,” said Morton Blackwell, Virginia's GOP national committeeman and a member of the convention rules committee.

In an email earlier this week, James Bopp, an Indiana delegate, said that he and other conservatives had reached an agreement with proponents of the rules changes to end the dispute.

A floor fight over the contentious issue of delegate rules in future primaries could distract from the central project of officially nominating Mitt Romney to take on President Obama in November.

Blackwell rejected the notion that Bopp had settled the controversy.

“Mr. Bopp may have made a deal but the rest of the conservative members on the rules committee are not party to it,” said Blackwell, who added that Virginia’s delegation unanimously supports his protest.

Blackwell said the rules committee would meet shortly after the convention convened Tuesday afternoon and that he would then know if he has enough support to stop the rules changes.

The changes are being championed by Ben Ginsberg, a high-profile Washington-based election lawyer who is representing Romney’s campaign.

Conservatives believe Ginsberg is supporting the agenda of powerful political consultants and insiders.

“The guy who pushed these obnoxious changes was one of two members from the District of Columbia. His name is Ben Ginsberg. Earlier this year he was employed by the Michele Bachmann campaign and now he represents himself as representing the Romney campaign and he is doing things which are vigorously opposed by conservatives. Ben Ginsberg is a man unencumbered by principal,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell has served on GOP convention rules committees since 1988.

Drew McKissick, a rules committee member from South Carolina, said he remains unsatisfied with proposed changes to delegate and primary rules.

He said the proposed reforms would weaken the disincentive for states with winner-take-all primaries to move their primary dates to early March, diminishing South Carolina’s influence in choosing future nominees.

He said another proposal to empower the Republican National Committee to change its rules in between conventions would marginalize grassroots conservatives.

“There’s a proposed Rule 12, which would in effect give the RNC the ability to change its rules in-between national conventions, a power they never had before, and that ruins the influence of the grassroots, of conservatives,” he said. “It would make the RNC a battleground for future presidential campaigns because everyone would start to try to jockey for influence on the committee to try to rig the rules in their favor for the next campaign, and we’re not going to have that either.”

The next major step will likely be around 3 p.m. Tuesday, when the rules committee will reconvene.

“We will decide whether we are making changes to those items and adopting a report that makes conservatives happy,” McKissick added.

Under current rules, states that hold primaries before April must assign their delegates proportionally, a safeguard against a frontloaded presidential primary schedule. States that move their primaries to March have less influence because their delegates get split among candidates.

“Since last night, there’s been a lot of other discussions I’ve seen from other folks here that in their opinion it doesn’t solve all the problems,” McKissick said of the compromise claimed by Bopp.

Blackwell said the Virginia delegation was “extremely angry” over a third proposed change that would empower a presidential candidate to disavow delegates from a state he or she won — thereby allowing candidates, and not voters, the power to pick delegates.

Proponents of the controversial rules changes have suggested the uproar is being stoked by supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), but Blackwell and McKissick said they both support Romney.

Blackwell said he has made his largest political contribution ever to the Romney-Ryan campaign, and McKissick said he supported Romney in the primary and in 2007.