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Romney Backers Brace For Paul 'Circus' In Iowa

The crowd reacts as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks at the University of California, Berkeley, on April 5.
Ben Margot
The crowd reacts as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks at the University of California, Berkeley, on April 5.

While Mitt Romney has a virtual lock on the Republican presidential nomination, fans of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas aren't quite giving up.

While they know he won't be president, they're still working to promote Paul's ideas. And they've started with state conventions, like the one in Iowa this weekend, where political observers are anticipating some fireworks.

"The nomination might be wrapped up, but we still have the chance to say, 'Hey, this is the direction that we want our party to move,' " says Joel Kurtinitis, 27, Paul's former Iowa state campaign director, who has been out of a job since the effort disbanded last month.

Kurtinitis says his focus now is on promoting Paul's ideas about rolling back the size and scope of government.

Shaping The Party Platform

"The Ron Paul Revolution, if it's called that, really was not about Ron Paul," says Kurtinitis, from West Des Moines. "And it's not stuck to his name as much as it is the principles of the Founders."

Another young former campaign staffer, Adil Khan, is now leading a new organization called Liberty Iowa PAC. Its goal is electing what he calls "constitutional conservatives" to state and local offices. "People who do not compromise on many key issues such as life ... protecting gun rights, all the way down to key issues like raw milk, things like that," says Khan.

Khan says he hopes as many as 70 to 80 percent of those who attend the Iowa GOP state convention will be like-minded and help reshape the state party platform. The document will be voted on this weekend, and parts of it could be incorporated into the national platform.

"Some of the platform ideas are just crazy. I mean they make us look crazy," says Doug Gross, a former Republican nominee for Iowa governor and Romney's 2008 Iowa campaign chairman.

While he's not working for the Romney campaign this year, Gross says after remaining neutral during the primary he now supports Romney.

Paul came in third in the Iowa caucuses back in January, and no one knows exactly how many Paul delegates Iowa will send to the national convention in Tampa. But Gross expects they'll be the majority. He believes the Iowa GOP is being taken over by the Ron Paul wing.

"I suspect that this convention this weekend will be a circus because these folks by definition are not institutionally minded," says Gross. "I mean, they see a piece of China on the table they like to break it. They don't wanna turn it into a full set."

Gross points to growing control of the state party by Paul supporters. Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker resigned from the Paul campaign when he took the job early this year. A spokeswoman declined repeated requests for an interview with Spiker.

Focus On Florida

Paul hasn't won any caucuses or primaries, but he has received a majority of delegates at several state conventions from Maine to Nevada.

Paul's national campaign chairman, Jesse Benton, expects to send some 200 bound delegates (out of the more than 2,000 that will ultimately be awarded, most of those to Romney) to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., plus several hundred Romney delegates who sympathize with Paul's ideas.

"We want them to be a very positive, respectful delegation that's there to take part and be a constructive part of the process," says Benton. "But at the same time send a very strong message that supporters of liberty and constitutional government are here, that we're growing, that we have strength, that we're serious, and that we're setting a tone for, you know, coming elections and coming years."

Paul supporters acknowledge they don't have the numbers to challenge Romney's nomination. And the congressman's son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has endorsed Romney, a move that could persuade some Paul backers to do the same.

But a strong show of support for Paul could play out badly for Romney's image, says Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Goldford says the last thing the party wants is a fight in Tampa.

"They don't want any controversy. They don't want anything that's considered newsworthy," says Goldford. "Any political party, nowadays at least, views the national convention as one big infomercial for their particular party."

If you're Mitt Romney, an infomercial would be nice. But with so many Paul supporters still focused on advancing his ideas, those delegates might be more interested in making a scene.

Copyright 2012 Iowa Public Radio

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.