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By Gabriel Debenedetti
WASHINGTON, July 26 For all the drama that
surrounded the Republican primary season, the convention to
formally nominate Mitt Romney as the party's candidate for
president is likely to be suspense-free.
Well, maybe not completely.
Aside from Romney's coronation, the August 27-30 convention
at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will host another show: Ron Paul's
The 76-year-old representative from Texas will retire from
Congress after November's elections, capping a long and colorful
career. He is looking to take some of the limelight away from
his former rival in the primaries.
Paul's followers - a small but intensely loyal band - have
been collecting small packs of delegates from across the country
since the congressman stopped campaigning in May, and they plan
to be a forceful voice in Tampa.
Perhaps as many as 500 delegates out of the 2,286 total at
the gathering will be Paul loyalists, keen to see the Republican
Party accept his message of radically shrinking government onto
its convention platform.
This has some Republicans worried that Paul and his often
noisy supporters could upstage Romney and interrupt the tightly
choreographed convention, just as the party needs to close ranks
ahead of a tough fight against President Barack Obama and the
Democrats at the Nov. 6 elections.
"If I were Romney, I'd prepare for the worst," Republican
strategist Ford O'Connell said. Although he has almost no chance
of winning the nomination, Paul is Romney's only Republican
rival who has not withdrawn from the presidential race, and he
refused last week to endorse Romney.
A former physician and a congressman on and off since 1976,
Paul is no longer the marginal figure in the party that he once
His radical ideas about small government and minimal U.S.
involvement abroad look more attractive to conservatives in
times of a deep budget deficit and war weariness, although
traditionalist Republicans balk at his isolationist foreign
In a sign of Paul's influence, the House of Representatives
on Wednesday approved one of his pet projects, a bill known as
"Audit the Fed" that would allow Congress to review Federal
Reserve monetary policy decisions, even though the measure will
probably die in the Senate.
Paul's supporters will try to force the convention to adopt
an Audit the Fed motion on the party platform in Tampa, a
symbolic move that would nevertheless put Paul's economic ideas
at the heart of the debate over the party's direction.
"We are working very hard to get Fed transparency in the
platform and have so far found several receptive ears," said
Paul senior advisor Jesse Benton.
The platform is a declaration of party positions rather than
a document binding on candidate Romney, but it nonetheless makes
a statement about Republican intentions.
Romney and Paul, who is a three-time presidential candidate,
were tacit allies against conservatives like Rick Santorum and
Newt Gingrich during this year's primary elections and are on
The libertarian is unlikely to rain on Romney's parade by
allowing backers, who include some Tea Party supporters and an
energetic youth wing, to stage protests or become too rowdy.
"Certainly we're not trying to start a fight or go embarrass
folks at the convention," Paul's former Iowa state director Joel
Kurtinitis said. "We get a bad rap as rabble-rousers. That's not
what we're about. We're trying to take our party back."
The Romney team helped the Paul campaign secure the
University of South Florida's 10,400-seat Sun Dome arena in
Tampa for a rally before the convention begins, perhaps fearing
that Paul supporters might be too vocal at the convention itself
without such an outlet.
"Gov. Romney has a lot of respect for Dr. Paul and the
energy his supporters bring to the process," Romney spokeswoman
Andrea Saul said. "We look forward to broad participation at the
Tampa convention and know the Paul enthusiasts will have their
Giving Paul's fans some room could be a wise strategic move
for Romney, O'Connell said.
"Romney has to take a very Machiavellian approach," he
explained. "He wants to keep his friends - his supporters -
close, and his potential enemies - Paul supporters - even
But Paul has suffered a couple of recent setbacks that may
dim his ardor at the convention.
Delegates backing Romney were elected at the Nebraska state
convention on July 14, denying the Texas congressman the five
primary or caucus states he needed to win to earn an automatic
speaking slot. This means Paul will not speak at the convention
unless the Romney team grants him a speaking role, which is
And Paul's chances of influencing the platform became more
complicated when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a close Romney
ally, was appointed head of the convention's platform committee,
which writes the document.
When Paul stopped actively campaigning for the nomination in
the spring, his supporters began scouring the country for
opportunities to pick up more delegates in caucus states,
predicting by June that 500 convention delegates would back
Paul, even if roughly 300 of those were formally pledged to
voting for Romney.
Benton said at the time that the delegates would push for
the consideration of Paul policies including those on the Fed
and deregulation of the Internet.
The Paul supporters might be helped by complicated voting
procedures on the party platform that can see issues go to
second rounds of voting.
Paul supporters could take advantage of split votes to push
their ideas onto the agenda, said Republican strategist Matt
"There's a question of how intense the non-Ron Paul
delegates are going to be," he said. "Are they going to be
there? Are they going to be voting?"
If not, Paul's imprint on the party may be more prominent
than expected in 2012.
(Editing By Alistair Bell and Alden Bentley)