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Ron Paul supporters see potential boost from Rick Santorum’s departure

Updated Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 1:05 p.m.

Rep. Ron Paul speaks at a rally for Philippine-American veterans at the Leatherneck Club in Las Vegas Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.

Rep. Ron Paul speaks at a rally for Philippine-American veterans at the Leatherneck Club in Las Vegas Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.

WASHINGTON — The math seems irrefutable: Rick Santorum’s bowing out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination has all but sealed the deal for the apparent nominee, Mitt Romney. But try to tell that to a Nevada Ron Paul supporter.

“I would like to welcome all the Rick Santorum supporters to the Ron Paul Revolution!” was how Las Vegas Ron Paul supporter Cindy Lake addressed the news of Santorum’s departure on her Facebook page Tuesday morning. The sentiment was cycling around the Facebook pages of the Paul faithful of Nevada by the afternoon.

“We have two Republican Presidential candidates left: one, Romney is for big money, big corporations...the other candidate is Ron Paul, a former Medical Doctor, Veteran Air Force Officer, Congressman, promoter of Freedom & Liberty,” wrote Andrew Martin-Smith. “Which one, will you choose?”

Things aren’t exactly at that point yet. There are officially three candidates left in the race for the Republican nomination: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. But at this point, Paul is the last remaining Republican candidate who hasn’t in some way conceded to Romney. (Even Gingrich, whose campaign still remains officially open for business, admitted last week that Romney was the likely nominee.)

Paul’s faithful in Nevada are seeing that as cause for some celebratory re-calculation: If Santorum’s 285 delegates are now up for grabs — why not pitch them toward Ron Paul?

“Santorum was one of the anti-Romney candidates as far as I’m concerned,” said Carl Bunce, Nevada campaign director for the Paul campaign. “It’s not much of a leap for any supporters of Senator Santorum to come over to Congressman Paul...Congressman Paul is everything that Rick Santorum talked about — he’s been married 55 years, he’s very supportive of the family unit, he’s a family man. So anybody that supported Senator Santorum shouldn’t think twice about coming over to Congressman Paul’s camp.”

Santorum and Paul’s blocs seem to hail from opposite ends of the party: Santorum drawing the religious conservatives, while Paul pulls the libertarians and even some like-minded independents.

But stretches are what the Paul campaign is pulling for right about now.

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during his primary election night party, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Grand Rapids, Mich.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during his primary election night party, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Paul is dead last in the delegate count, with only 51 of the of the 1,133 delegates that have been awarded so far. While that number is projected to rise to about 70 or 80 once superdelegates and other shifts are accounted for, that’s still a fraction of the 661 Romney already has to his name, and the 285 that Santorum just vacated.

That’s the national picture. In Nevada, the margins are far slimmer: Santorum only won 3 delegates back in February — and that might be enough to give Paul supporters momentum heading into the state convention.

In one month, the state party comes together to select 28 delegates for the national convention. Already, the seams of party cohesion are split.

Back in 2008, the Ron Paul faction of the state Republican party successfully staged a coup, pitching over the results of the caucuses by swarming the state party convention and electing several Paul-leaning people to the delegate positions.

They’re hoping to do the same this year, even though the political proclivities of the delegates won’t matter much until after the first ballot. This year, Nevada delegates are bound to vote according to the caucus results for the first tally -- except, now, the case of the three, freed, Santorum delegates.

Even if the Paul campaign claims the Santorum delegates, Romney is still ahead, having won 14 of the state’s 28 delegates in February caucuses.

But even if Romney is the nominee apparent — in the nation as well as Nevada the nation now — Paul camp is helped by the official position of the Nevada Republican party, because Romney won’t have locked up the nomination in terms of delegates by the time the state party convention meets in early May.

Their official position until that happens is to have no preference at all.

“It’s just another one dropping until we reach the delegate amount,” said an official with the Nevada GOP, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the coming convention. “I don’t think anyone is going to officially announce [Romney] as the nominee quite yet. Once that changes, we’ll merge together.”

A spokesman for Romney in Nevada did not return a request to comment on the likelihood of Santorum’s supporters running to Paul, nor the significance of Santorum dropping out of the race.

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