TAMPA, Fla. -- A Republican Party procedural committee on Wednesday moved to ensure that supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) would be unable to nominate the congressman from the floor of the GOP convention next week, but ultimately backed away from the measure.
Nonetheless, the deliberations signaled that the Republican Party and Mitt Romney's presidential campaign remain nervous to some degree about the potential for Paul supporters to disrupt the carefully scripted program for the four-day convention next week.
The Republican National Committee Rules Committee considered a motion to change the number of states a candidate needs to nominate him from the floor from five to 10. Paul supporters have captured a large number of delegate seats -- in a few cases the majority -- in at least seven states: Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
However, a Paul insider told The Huffington Post that they have a majority of delegates only in three states.
The Paul campaign told CNN that its count indicates that 373 of the 2,286 delegates support Paul. Some of those delegates are bound by state rules to vote for Romney. However, the state rules binding delegates to the presidential nominee do not apply to vice president, leaving open the possibility that Paul delegates could nominate an alternative to Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) from the floor.
But the Paul insider said that the Texas congressman does not want to be nominated for vice president.
The Romney campaign reached an agreement with the Paul campaign to seat contested delegates in Massachusetts and Louisiana this week, but delegates in Oregon remain contested.
John Ryder, an RNC committeeman from Tennessee, proposed the threshold change from five states to 10 to nominate a candidate from the floor. But Morton Blackwell, a committeeman from Virginia, rose and spoke vigorously in opposition to the measure.
"Increasing it to 10 is I think a choke operation," Blackwell said. "And would discourage people from participating within our Republican Party."
"All we are talking about here -– let's put it frankly -- is the possibility that somebody like Ron Paul would be denied the possibility, after he carried five states, to have his name placed into nomination," Blackwell said. "This is a very bad idea. And we have got to, in this party, treat newcomers fairly."
"This would be taken as a slap in the face to grassroots people," he said.
Ryder agreed to change the number back to five states, but the amendment passed with one change intact: delegates must indicate in writing at least one hour before the vote who they intend to nominate.
That requirement ensures that if delegates who support Paul plan to vote for the Texas congressman -- either for president or vice president -- in the roll call vote of the states, they will have to give the Romney campaign and the RNC advance notice.
Blackwell told The Huffington Post afterward that he felt "very strongly" that the Paul supporters who "play by the rules" need to be treated fairly. He said his own experience as a supporter of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) in the 1964 presidential election informed this view.
"I've been through this before," the 72-year old Blackwell said. "I was Goldwater's youngest elected delegate in the nation. And people said we were extremists and racists and we could never be incorporated into the party. Wrong."
Ryder said he proposed the rule change because "the function of a convention now is much more about the party expressing its vision for the country."
"So the focus is to get away from some of the residue of the 19 century," he said.
"We're way past the time when you had uncommitted delegates and favored sons and smoke-filled backrooms. So with virtually the delegates coming to the convention bound by state law through either a primary or a caucus, the result is a foregone conclusion," he said.
"If you've got somebody who has five states or six states, and that's all they've got, you know, and the result is a foregone conclusion, and you know who's got a majority because you've counted the votes. ... We already know what the vote count's going to be, so unless you've got a real contest, where you've got two candidates or three candidates who really have a chance of winning, then why do we want to go through the exercise?"
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