Marilyn Newton / AP Photo
Published Saturday, May 5, 2012 | 8:44 p.m.
Updated Sunday, May 6, 2012 | 1:17 a.m.
The divided Nevada Republican Convention descended into a sheer battle of wills late Saturday as those fighting to keep Ron Paul’s long-shot candidacy alive faced off against those intent on ensuring Mitt Romney wasn’t embarrassed by a lack of support.
Balloting for the national delegates didn’t begin until after 7 p.m., pushing the marathon convention into the early morning hours of Sunday with neither side willing to abandon a process rife with arcane rule fights.
A debate over whether to vote by hand, by two hands, by standing or by voice, for example, took nearly a half-hour to resolve.
But Paul’s supporters, driven by four years of planning and persistence, vowed to outlast the so-called Republican establishment that is trying desperately to close ranks around Romney — the likely nominee who is planning to face President Barack Obama in November.
Romney supporters, on the other hand, were still smarting from four years ago when Paul supporters captured the state convention. Romney’s supporters voiced equal determination to see the convention through despite the maddeningly slow process.
“I’m here specifically to offset the huge Ron Paul organization,” Romney supporter David Dietze said. “They are hard at work. There’s been a lot of delays, and clearly their tactic is to be the last man standing.”
Bob McKinnon and his wife, Bruni McKinnon, also Romney supporters, echoed the sentiment.
“We’re going to be here until it’s over. We’ll be here until they all go home,” Bob McKinnon said.
The standoff likely will have little affect on who becomes the eventual nominee. Under party rules, national delegates are bound to vote — at least in the first round of balloting — for the candidates according to the results of the caucuses.
That means Romney is entitled to 50 percent of the delegates. But if Paul supporters can win enough delegate slots, they could influence the national convention. And in the unlikely event of a brokered convention, they would be free to vote for Paul after the first round of ballots.
Volunteers continued counting ballots until the early morning hours Sunday. A final result wasn’t expected possibly until daybreak.
Earlier in the day, Paul supporters won two key floor votes, indicating their strength in the national delegate selection could be formidable in Nevada.
First, Paul supporters blocked a move by Romney supporters to require 50 percent of the delegates remain in the room to conduct any convention business. Four years ago, the Republican Party used a similar rule to abruptly shut down the proceedings — a move Paul supporters were determined to prevent this go-round.
Perhaps more tellingly, Paul supporters elected two from within their ranks to represent Nevada on the Republican National Committee.
Lyon County Republican James Smack, a long-time Paul supporter, defeated former Gov. Bob List, and Las Vegas Republican Diana Orrock, a Paul supporter, defeated Reno Republicans Heidi Smith and Carole DelCarlo.
“We’re prepared to stay here however long. We’re prepared to fight however long and by the rules,” Paul supporter Allen Adams said.
Many of Paul’s delegates refused to concede the possibility that the Texas congressman has already lost the nominating battle. Instead, they viewed the caucus as simply the first step in a long nomination fight and not the definitive vote for who should be nominee.
Under Republican presidential nominating rules, they’re right.
“It’s not over yet,” said Eugene H. Cushing, a Paul supporter from Reno. “These decisions are made at the national convention by the delegates there.”
Adam Ballner, a Paul supporter from Las Vegas, echoed the point, noting that the Republican primary has been marked by sudden spikes of popularity for a succession of candidates.
“Those (caucuses) were a gauge of where everyone was at that moment in time,” he said. “But this is the process we go through to determine the best candidate, and it doesn’t end until Florida.”
Handing Paul the nomination isn’t their sole motivation.
“Whether he’s elected isn’t the main goal,” Ballner said. “It’s changing the party from the ground up.”
Indeed, Paul voiced the same sentiment in an energetic 15-minute speech to the convention.
“I’ve been elected 12 times as a Republican, but some days I get frustrated with the Republican Party,” Paul said. “Maybe a few of you on occasion have been frustrated with the Republican Party.”
He then called for an end to foreign wars, cutting the budget by $1 trillion and protecting civil liberties.
Several heated skirmishes erupted over the course of the day — a “fake slate” of Paul delegates was circulated, for example.
But, much to the relief of the Romney campaign — which worked to stay out of the spotlight in the delegate fight — a large-scale confrontation was avoided.
The Romney campaign’s hope: to turn attention to Obama.
Early in the morning, Romney’s middle son, Josh Romney, gave a brief speech, stressing Nevada’s importance as a battleground state in the general election.
“This is a very important state for us,” Josh Romney told the crowd, which applauded politely but didn’t erupt into raucous cheers. “We’re campaigning hard here. We’re going to continue to campaign hard here.”