Ron Paul is orchestrating a highly unusual, yet precisely organized, grassroots effort to bring as many loyal delegates as possible to the Republican National Convention. Romney's campaign has some mass appeal but invites little passion. Paul's might have even fewer supporters than Romney but their energetic zeal could culminate in having an outsize influence at the RNC without having won a single primary.
Each state selects its delegates to the Republican National Convention differently, and as has often been reported, the process of a candidate “winning a state” is not as simple as a plurality on primary day. An obscure process of country, district, and state conventions exists to appoint these delegates to the national convention. A candidate who can successfully manipulate these lesser known “behind-the-scenes” processes can put himself in an advantageous position should the Convention begin in August with some doubt about the identity of the nominee.
Focusing on one Super Tuesday state, Georgia, this process began with “mass precinct meetings” on February 18th to select delegates to the county conventions. After the March 6 primary, Georgia's 159 county conventions take place March 10. These will elect delegates to the district conventions scheduled for April 14. While some at-large delegates emerge from the state convention, most are selected at Georgia’s thirteen district conventions. Ideally, the Paul campaign would like for its supporters to compose 51% of the attendees at each district convention so that its supporters can make motions, control the proceedings, and make sure its supporters get nominated as delegates to the national convention.
The Paul campaign has rigorously organized its volunteers to attend the mass precinct meetings that took place all over Georgia. It has been instructing supporters on parliamentary procedure and state Republican rules. It is also giving advice on convention etiquette. In an e-mail to supporters, Charles Gregory, Georgia State Coordinator for Ron Paul 2012, wrote:
“It is my personal recommendation that you dress professionally and not overtly identify yourself as a Ron Paul supporter. Your position should simply be: “I'm here to send Obama home, that's all I care about.” If asked who you support—just say you ‘haven't made up your mind yet but they're all better than what we've got now,’ etc."
I myself attended a similar precinct meeting in 2008. Most of the speeches were about uniting the Party around the eventual nominee and there was relatively little conflict, and I easily got my name on the slate of delegates to the county, district, and state conventions.
The most recent meetings held in Georgia have not been like this at all.
A Paul supporter in my hometown of Warner Robins, GA described how the strategy played out at Houston County's mass precinct meeting last Saturday. (Video of the meeting is available here.) The story he tells, and one I’ve corroborated with other witnesses, is one of chaos. The GOP county leadership is aware of the strength of the Paul wave, but handcuffed by state party rules designed to bolster the party by allowing large numbers of people to get involved.
These meetings have not always been well attended, so it becomes common practice for names to be added to delegate lists, even if those people are not present at the meeting. The low attendance coupled with the openness to adding random names to delegate lists leaves them vulnerable to insurgencies like Paul's. Knowing this, the Paul campaign had distributed lists of local supporters’ names to attendees. It instructed supporters to fill in the vacant slots with loyal names.
My friend described the disruption that followed:
Near the end of the caucusing it became known that names were being nominated as delegates who were not present at the meeting. This practice was encouraged by the Ron Paul campaign which has made it clear that they are running a delegate strategy. When the chairperson caught word of this, confusion ensued. He instructed everyone that this was not permissible under the rules and the crowd shouted back. However this is acceptable and the Ron Paul campaign had even directed its delegates to the state rulebook for proof.
Members of the county leadership, especially those with “Newt Gingrich 2012” stickers, did not have a pleasant and supportive attitude during this process. It also became clear to me at this point that the people who knew the rules were Ron Paul supporters. There were dozens of people, mainly young and middle aged, who reacted to this controversy exactly as the Ron Paul delegates were trained to do.
I have seen a few comments about this event afterwards, and one specifically complained that the Ron Paul backers attempted to hijack the event and they caused all the problems. From what I saw the Ron Paul supporters were very close to a majority if they did not have one outright at the meeting. It is my understanding that this event was the other way around, the county GOP leadership attempted to hijack the meeting away from the majority.
Members of the GOP may try and find other ways to block Paul's supporters, but their options are limited when the Paul campaign uses each state's Republican Party rules against it. The evidence suggests that events like this one in central Georgia are playing out all across the nation. Only time will tell how effective this is, but it is clear that the Paul campaign is desperate to create a major splash at Tampa this summer any way it can.