Sunday May 6, 2012

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Ron Paul’s army of supporters in Maine flexed their muscle Saturday as they elected their candidate for chairman of the state Republican convention, a first step toward taking over key party committees and giving the Texas congressman a voice at this summer’s national convention.

"I think it shows that our numbers are here," Aaron Quinn, a 28-year-old Paul supporter from Brunswick, said after the close chairmanship vote.

Paul supporter Brent Tweed, a state committee member from York County, was elected chairman with 1,118 delegates’ votes, just four more votes than the mainstream candidate, Charles Cragin, a one-time gubernatorial candidate. A Paul supporter was also narrowly elected secretary.

The votes were largely symbolic but important because they show the level of support at the crowded convention for the libertarian-leaning Paul. His supporters’ real goals were to elect majorities on Re publican county, state and national committees -- and elect a majority of the state’s delegates to this summer’s GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla.

Delivering 13 of Maine’s 24 delegates to Paul would ensure he gets a chance to address the convention, said Matthew Mc Donald of Belfast, a Paul-supporting delegate.

"That’s why Maine today is really, really important," Mc Donald said.

Nevada Republicans, who also were holding their convention Saturday, also expected a strong Paul showing. Paul’s supporters said he needed delegate majorities in six states to address the convention and either Maine or Nevada could put him over the top.

The highly organized Paul forces helped to swell the convention delegate count to around 3,000, well over the previous high of about 2,500, party leaders said. Paul forces were anxious to show their might after February’s nonbinding presidential caucus vote, which gave Mitt Romney a win but which many GOP members said was bungled by party leaders.

While many of the delegates at Saturday’s convention wore stickers supporting presumptive presidential nominee Rom ney, they were far less vocal than the Paul forces, who had draped large banners with the candidate’s name from the balcony rails at the Augusta Civic Center. A number of the delegates consider themselves ABOs -- anybody but (President Barack) Obama.

Despite his strong support in Maine and other states, Paul hasn’t won a single state since the primaries and caucuses started in January, though he’s been picking up national convention delegates in caucus states where the delegate selection process plays out over several months.

Paul is well behind the other three candidates in the race for delegates with 83, according an Associated Press count. Rom ney is less than 300 delegates away from the 1,144 needed to win the nomination.