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Ron Paul Backers Dominate Nevada's GOP Convention


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. At the White House correspondent's dinner the other night President Obama mocked one of the last candidates still chasing Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. The president howled at Newt Gingrich, there's still time, man. Gingrich has since withdrawn, but not Texas Congressman Ron Paul. And you can see evidence of that at raucous state Republican conventions in Maine and Nevada. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At Nevada's state GOP convention at Sparks Nugget Casino, it quickly became clear who was the preferred presidential contender for most of the 1,600 voting delegates.

CROWD: (Chanting) President Paul, President Paul.

WELNA: Most of Nevada's GOP establishment was a no-show at the meeting. But Mitt Romney's son, Josh, did show up. He readily acknowledged the convention's favorite candidates.

JOSH ROMNEY: I recognize that Congressman Paul is still in the race and is working hard.


WELNA: Josh Romney also tried to change the subject to the Democrat in the White House.

ROMNEY: We feel very good about our changes to beat him and our prospects of beating President Obama, and look forward to electing my dad president next November.

WELNA: Mitt Romney did win Nevada's February caucus, getting half the votes, while Ron Paul got less than one in five. When Paul showed up Saturday to address the state convention, he reveled in his role as party outlier.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: I've been elected 12 times as a Republican, but there are some days when I get - there are some days when I have been frustrated with the Republican Party. Maybe a few of you in here, on occasion, was frustrated with the Republican Party.


WELNA: As Paul's supporters cheered, Romney's sat stony faced. Nevada Republican National Committee woman Heidi Smith later scolded the Paul contingent.

HEIDI SMITH: I agree with Ron Paul 80 percent of the time, but I worked under Ronald Reagan and I know what he would do. And I'm going to tell you now, the only way we can get that damn socialist out of the White House is to vote for the man who will do it.


WELNA: Smith held up a Romney campaign poster, then lost her party post to a challenger on line with Ron Paul. In fact, because Paul's supporters so outnumbered Romney's, they won most of the delegate posts for the Tampa convention, even though most of them will be bound to voting for Romney on the first ballot.

CYNTHIA KENNEDY: It's been like Christmas.

WELNA: That's Cynthia Kennedy, one of the Ron Paul supporters who's going to Tampa as a Nevada delegate.

KENNEDY: Mitt Romney did win in Nevada, so I will probably be voting for Mitt Romney on the first ballot. But it's rather doubtful that Romney will get the nomination on the first ballot, and then we're all unbound and free to vote for whomever we like. And of course, that will be Ron Paul.

WELNA: It was much the same at the GOP state convention in Maine over the weekend. Ron Paul supporters dominated that meeting and won a majority of the delegates going to Tampa. Pastor Matt McDonald of Belfast, Maine is one of them.

MATT MCDONALD: I can now raise my hand and question the chairman, vote on the agenda, things like that. That's why Maine today is really, really important.

WELNA: At a campaign stop yesterday in Austin, Texas, Ron Paul crowed about winning state conventions nearly every day.

PAUL: So the revolution is working. We have infiltrated the Republican Party and we will convert the Republican Party to the offenders of liberty.

WELNA: But Paul's capturing the GOP presidential nomination this year is something that even some of his supporters admit appears highly unlikely.

David Welna, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.