Having already been stripped of half of their hard-won delegates and all their alternates by the RNC, the Maine Ron Paul delegation to the Republican National Convention today faced the further indignities of an expedited roll call, a clerk that refused to count their votes, the passage of new party rules that made it more difficult for insurgent candidates and the silencing of their microphone as they attempted to argue for their seats and lodge formal complaints and points of order.
Finally, they took the only path of protest left to them and marched out of the Tampa Bay Times Forum en masse.
On the way out they held an impromptu press conference, blasting the Republican Party and Mitt Romney’s campaign for disrespecting Maine and, in particular, the veterans who had been elected from the state as national delegates.
Other Ron Paul supporters, notably those from Texas on the far side of the convention hall, shouted “fraud” and “farce” and booed House Speaker John Boehner and Party Chairman Reince Priebus. They apparently discussed joining the boycott led by the Maine delegation but decided not to. Ron Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, studiously avoided commenting on or becoming personally involved in the disagreement.
Establishment Republicans disagreed that the Maine delegation had been mistreated. Senator John Thune told Salon that “I think that there’s a process, everyone followed it. Everyone did it according to the rules.” Asked directly if the Paul supporter’s grievances were legitimate, he replied “well, perhaps in their minds.”
This all made for an interesting, unplanned moment during what is otherwise a heavily-scripted event, but what does it mean for Maine politics?
The conservative Tea Party and Ron Paul activists who care deeply about this slight are probably few in number, but they also happen to be the core of the new Republican Party in Maine. They represent the grassroots energy that helped Paul LePage to win first a hotly contested primary and then a gubernatorial election, while also electing Maine’s first GOP legislative majorities in decades.
If some of them choose to sit out this election, or to not engage fully, it could certainly make a difference in races up and down the ticket, especially in the Second Congressional District, which will see more competitive presidential and congressional races as well as a large number of first-term Tea Party-backed state legislators who are working hard to hold their seats in a year likely to be less friendly to them than 2010.
In the presidential race, these disaffected Republicans have an obvious electoral alternative. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson will be on the Maine ballot and with Maine’s history of supporting 3rd party candidates (Ross Perot came in second in 1992) and this new perceived GOP snub, I expect his support will inch up a few points to the detriment of Mitt Romney.