Ron Paul continues fight for nomination, to the befuddlement of observers

The other Republican candidates have all packed it in, unable to contend with Mitt Romney’s overwhelming lead in delegates and cash, but Ron Paul campaigns on.

While Romney focuses full-time on President Obama and the general election, Paul continues to amass delegates in the primary, sending allies to wrest delegates away from Romney in state GOP conventions across the country.

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Republican Party leaders say no one can quite triangulate the end goal for Paul, whose efforts are unlikely to deny Romney the nomination. Romney has more than eight times as many delegates as Paul, according to a count by The Associated Press.

Some believe the goal is and has always been to build a movement around libertarian issues with an eye toward the long term and elections many years out. Others say the Texas congressman is laying the groundwork for his son, Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulThe Memo: Trump faces enormous test with healthcare bill Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Rand Paul: Trump 'open to making bill better' MORE (R-Ky.), to run for higher office with an established network of diehard supporters.

Still, some suggest Paul’s aides believe that if they can deny Romney the 1,144 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination on the first ballot and stock delegate slates with Paul supporters, they can launch a bid from the floor and win the nomination in a contested convention.

The odds of winning a floor fight are small, but any kind of loud, showy presence at the convention is sure to draw media attention, given that these are usually highly choreographed events that contain few surprises.

Whatever his strategy, Paul’s continued presence as a Romney foil could complicate GOP efforts to present a united front if it leads to a messy battle at the August convention in Tampa, Fla.

“Unnecessary tension and grandstanding for the sake of grandstanding is not good for the party come November,” said one Republican National Committee (RNC) committeeman. “The question is, are these [Republican] party people who will eventually back Romney, or are they stealth Ron Paul-ite libertarians who don’t care if the party wins?” 

Paul’s ongoing efforts to accrue both pledged and unpledged delegates came to a head over the weekend in a handful of states, where his campaign made full use of the complexities of state delegate rules, drawing on the dedication of his loyal activists to out-organize Romney.

“Republican Party activists with Paul leanings are affirming the campaign’s delegate-win strategy and making lasting inroads into the party infrastructure, broadening the Republican footprint and strengthening the GOP base that suffers from a dearth of enthusiasm,” Paul’s campaign manager, John Tate, said in a statement.

In Nevada, where Romney won in February with more than 50 percent of the vote, Paul supporters nabbed 22 of the state’s 25 delegate seats, and also ousted two Romney backers in the race for Nevada’s two RNC members. 

Twenty of the 25 delegates are bound to vote for Romney in the first round of balloting in Tampa despite their support for Paul. But that won’t prevent them from loudly making their personal persuasions known — or from supporting Paul in subsequent ballots if Romney doesn’t lock it up in the first go-around.

In Idaho, Paul’s supporters are hoping to undo Romney’s win in the state’s new caucus system, which yielded him all 32 of the state’s delegates, by taking control of the state party convention and then changing the rules. Paul is also poised to take the most delegates out of Iowa, where he came in third in January. Ten of the 13 at-large delegates in Iowa have made their support for Paul public, although the slate has yet to be finalized. 

And in Maine, where Romney won the nonbinding caucus in February, Paul won 20 of the state’s 24 delegates at a state convention on Saturday. But Romney’s campaign isn’t taking the challenge lying down, reportedly dispatching to lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg to contest the outcome.

Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Romney respects Paul and the energy his supporters bring to the process, and looks forward to working with those supporters to help him defeat Obama. 

“As for individual state conventions, make no mistake that the Tampa convention will nominate Mitt Romney, and it will be his convention,” said Henneberg.

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer downplayed the prospect of a convention fight that could inhibit the nominee’s success, claiming that when push comes to shove, Paul and Romney will be on the same team.

“Historically, all of these things work themselves out,” said Spicer. “At the end of the day, Congressman Paul shares the goal of putting a Republican back in the White House.”

Paul’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Other former GOP contenders, including Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, have expressed a desire to wield the clout they amassed during the primary to influence the party’s platform, holding the GOP nominee to conservative positions even if they can’t carry the torch themselves.

But Paul’s top policy objectives — a noninterventionist foreign policy, an overhaul of the currency system and the dismantling of the Federal Reserve — are further outside the mainstream of conservative thinking than those of Gingrich and Santorum, making it less likely that his supporters’ advocacy could have a real impact on the direction of the party coming out of the convention.

“Anyone who thinks Ron Paul seriously believes he’s trying to win believes the U.S. is going to be on the gold standard next week. He sees this as a multiyear process and a movement,” said Dan Hazelwood, a Republican strategist. 

“The question is: Can the movement extend its reach beyond him?”