DES MOINES — Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses in January, with Mitt Romney a close second, but neither was the true winner this weekend when the delegates who actually will vote at the Republican National Convention were selected. That would be Ron Paul.
The congressman from Texas finished a distant third in the Iowa caucuses more than six months ago, but of the 28 delegates selected Friday and Saturday to head to the national convention, 23 are Paul supporters – and they are not bound to support the victor of the state’s first-in-the-nation voting contest.
It’s part of a quiet strategy by Paul and his backers to amass an army of supporters at the GOP gathering in August in Tampa, Fla., to push Paul’s views on liberty, states’ rights, the monetary system and foreign policy. By working arcane electoral rules and getting supporters into positions of power in local, county and state party operations, the strategy is paying dividends across the nation.
Paul has stopped actively campaigning and has conceded that Romney will be the GOP nominee. It’s unclear whether Paul’s name will be submitted for nomination; mathematically, he does not have the numbers to derail Romney. But his supporters can have an effect on the party in other ways.
“We want to have a real big voice on the platform; we want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, a Paul supporter who was pleased after the Saturday vote.
He was Paul’s state director in Iowa until Paul suspended his presidential bid in May, and he said that although he would love to see Paul awarded a prime speaking spot at the convention, his followers’ efforts are about more than one man.
“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party. That’s where my hopes are at and that’s my hope for this convention more than seeing Ron Paul do X, Y and Z,” Kurtinitis said.
Romney and his campaign have treated Paul and his followers deferentially, perhaps mindful of not alienating his incredibly loyal supporters. At the Iowa GOP convention, a Romney staffer who flew in from Boston watched the proceedings but did not get involved. At the Romney table, workers distributed three fliers to conventioneers – a general brochure about his candidacy, an invitation to a rally in Davenport on Monday and a news release that touted Romney’s endorsement by Paul’s son, Rand Paul, and effusively lavished praise on the Kentucky senator who many believe is the heir apparent for Paul’s movement.
But others say the move by the Iowa GOP is a black eye for the state’s caucuses and for the presumptive GOP nominee.
“Embarrassment is the word that comes to my mind,” said Jamie Johnson, who served as Santorum’s state coalitions director in Iowa. The former senator from Pennsylvania, who narrowly won the caucuses but has endorsed Romney since ending his presidential bid in April, appears to have one solitary Iowa delegate who supported him heading to the convention.
“I believe that it seriously puts the Iowa caucuses’ first-in-the-nation status in jeopardy,” Johnson said. “It will be a major embarrassment to Gov. Romney if there is a strong Ron Paul vote from the floor on the night in which the votes are counted.”
Paul is counting on having 200 delegates on the floor who can vote for him, and a few hundred more who are bound to vote for Romney but are his supporters.
“While this total is not enough to win the nomination, it puts us in a tremendous position to grow our movement and shape the future of the GOP!” Paul wrote in an email to supporters last week. “I hope every one of you continues the fight we have advanced so well this year. I hope you will finish your local and state conventions, and, if you were selected as a national delegate, that you will head to Tampa in August to force the Republican Party to listen to the voice of liberty.
“We have never had this kind of opportunity. There will be hundreds of your fellow supporters in Tampa who will be ready and willing to push the Republican Party back to its limited government, liberty roots.”