Ron Paul supporters backed the state GOP’s new presidential caucus system. But they’re so disgusted with his third-place finish and the fact that Mitt Romney captured all 32 national delegates, they’re working to change the result.
“I’ll do the scorched earth if I have to,” said Ryan Davidson, third vice chairman of the Ada County Republican Party and a Paul organizer. The Paul camp’s plan is to control the GOP state convention in June by winning little-noticed precinct committee races across Idaho in the May 15 primary.
“If two-thirds of the delegates to the Idaho State Convention are Ron Paul supporters, they can vote to suspend the rules, overturn the results of the caucus and award all the national delegates to Ron Paul,” Davidson says on YouTube. In recent days, he shut down access to the training video because Romney supporters were using it to counterattack.
Romney won 62 percent of the vote at the March 6 caucus, which attracted almost 45,000 GOP voters. Rick Santorum was second and Paul third, both with 18 percent.
Davidson concedes that the tactic is “debatable,” but says the provision for suspending rules with a supermajority is designed to “address special circumstances.”
“We feel that establishment Republicans have done enough damage to this country and that by nominating a clone of John McCain, the party is forfeiting the presidency,” Davidson said.
Debbie Field, a former Boise lawmaker who managed Gov. Butch Otter’s 2006 and 2010 campaigns, is assisting the effort to elect a slate of precinct committeemen who will support the result of the caucus.
“It is very, very debatable,” said Field, who downloaded Davidson’s video and is using it to campaign for candidates loyal to Romney. “When I show the video, everybody sits up in their chair and says, ‘Can he do that? That is like stealing my vote!’ ”
Eva Gay Yost, a precinct committeewoman from Meridian who’s worked for Republicans since President Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election, is appalled.
“They don’t play fair,” said Yost, who was scheduler for GOP Gov. Phil Batt. “This is a concentrated effort to hijack the Republican Party. They call us ‘Republicans in Name Only.’ We are true Republicans. They’re not Republicans, they’re Libertarians. We don’t want to legalize pot.”
Davidson has led unsuccessful efforts to legalize marijuana at the city level by voter initiative.
Paul supporters on the state Central Committee helped approve the first-ever GOP caucus. An author of the idea, former Senate Majority Leader Rod Beck of Boise, allied with Paulers in helping oust GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan in 2008. Beck also has championed the new closed GOP primary. But he wants no part of the Paul strategy.
“I am disappointed,” Beck said. “The results were clear. We went to great lengths to be fair. It would be a slap in the face to those thousands of people who turned out for the caucus.”
Former Gov. Batt also opposes the Paul gambit. “I think it’s quite bizarre,” he said.
This week, he’ll send 20,000 postcards to GOP voters in Ada County, urging them to vote for precinct committee candidates who support the caucus result. The cards include a list of candidates endorsed by Batt.
“They have worked hard for the party and will do what needs to be done in the upcoming election by supporting the party nominee for president,” he writes.
Davidson said his strongest organization is in Ada County, but he’s also working in Canyon County and has allies elsewhere. Paul won six of Idaho’s 44 counties at the caucus; his biggest win was in Nez Perce County. Santorum won six counties, including Kootenai.
Davidson’s strategy requires winning enough precinct committee races to control county organization meetings in late May and early June. That’s where state convention delegates are elected by a simple majority.
The final step is the state convention in Twin Falls on June 22, where delegates to the national convention are elected. That’s where Paul would need a two-thirds vote to overturn a state party rule binding delegates to Romney.
Davidson said he has candidates for more than 100 of the 145 precincts in Ada County. There are 62 precincts in Canyon County and 925 statewide.
Unlike Batt, Davidson would not disclose his slate, saying, “There are a lot of people in our coalition who aren’t necessarily Ron Paul supporters, and I don’t want to speak on behalf of anyone without their permission.”
Romney forces filed 99 Ada candidates by the election deadline and since have added 22 write-ins. Paul appears to have two write-ins.
“We have enough people; we just have to win the races,” Davidson said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Romney’s Idaho campaign co-chairman, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, suggested that Davidson might be smoking something.
“You’ve gotta admire their enthusiasm, but it ain’t gonna happen,” Risch said. “It’s wishful thinking.”
Risch added that even if Paul succeeded in suspending the rules and sending 32 delegates to the convention in Tampa, they’d never be seated.
“That’s entirely in the hands of the Credentials Committee, and they’d say, ‘What, are you guys crazy? You had a set of rules and changed midstream.’ I don’t think so.”
Said Davidson: “I don’t know what the Credentials Committee would do, but I think they would respect each state’s process. It’s the job of the state convention to select the delegates.”