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Tension Boils Over for Nevada Delegates Supporting Ron Paul

TAMPA, Fla. – Four years of frustration by Nevada supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul bubbled over on the floor of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

The former presidential candidate’s ardent supporters – now the majority of the state’s delegation after running a well-organized operation at the state convention in May – swatted away precedent and announced during the official roll call vote that 17 of Nevada’s 28 delegates were casting their vote for Paul. Only five cast votes for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Based on the results of the Nevada caucuses in February, Romney should have received 20 of the 28 votes, but nine Paul supporters slated to vote for Romney cast their vote for Paul instead. The result was an angry confrontation between Paul delegates and Romney backers, including National Committeeman and former Gov. Bob List.

“This is what we came here to do,” delegation Chairman Wayne Terhune told Roll Call on the convention floor moments after he announced the vote.

The party establishment was aware of this possibility, and the friction within the delegation was palpable on Monday morning, when the group met in Tampa for the first time.

In a shoebox-sized meeting room in one of a smorgasbord of airport hotels, there was no avoiding the division. Groggy after a long night and seated behind a banquet table in the back of the room, Republican National Committeewoman Heidi Smith, a longtime state party leader, dutifully handed out convention credentials to a steady flow of delegates stopping by on their way to the delegation’s opening breakfast. These were some of the same people who helped oust Smith and List at the state party convention.

“Ron Paul people,” Smith said after a couple of delegates, including Clark County GOP Chairwoman Cindy Lake, exited the room. “Did I treat her nicely?”

After 30 minutes, Smith locked up the meeting room and made her way to the delegation breakfast, where the delegates, alternate delegates and guests mostly sat with their own kind.

“It’s been friction for four or five years between the folks who were there and then the folks who came in for Ron Paul,” Terhune said Monday, pausing briefly as Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki walked by so he couldn’t hear the interview.

The Romney backers in the delegation are largely longtime party officials, including Smith, List, Krolicki, former state party Chairwoman Sue Lowden and Patty Cafferata, a former national committeewoman, former state treasurer and the daughter of former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich.

“This is nothing new. There’s always been different factions of Republicans,” Cafferata said. “If they really want to get rid of Barack Obama, you pull together and get it done. Once we get past this convention, then people will unite.”

That message was reiterated Monday by several other establishment Republicans.

“We agree on far more things than we disagree on, and I believe these people all realize that the cause is bigger than any one policy or any one person,” said Krolicki, a close friend of Romney. “And they will rally and put their wonderful energy into making sure Nevada goes for the Romney/Ryan ticket on Nov. 6.”

That didn’t seem likely shortly after the roll call vote, when James Ayala, a Paul delegate slated to vote for Romney, confronted List on the convention floor. Ayala had expressed frustration in an interview with Roll Call on Monday for being shut out of the delegation in 2008, when Paul supporters felt they had an opportunity to win more delegates at the state party convention than Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). That event was cut short before all the votes could be counted.

“This is a fraud. This is a sham. This is a joke,” Ayala yelled Tuesday night at anyone within earshot. Then, standing face to face, List said the Paul supporters were breaking party rules, and Ayala called the former governor an “oath breaker.”

In an interview Monday, List said he hoped they could avoid all of this fuss.

“They would just embarrass themselves,” List said. “This is a Romney convention, and we need to send that message across the land.”

The splintering has also taken place within the state party, which has had trouble raising money this year. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee set up their own state party operation called Team Nevada, which several sources said is more organized than the official state party has been for some time.

Beyond that, there is a north-south friction between the local parties in Clark and Washoe counties. The Clark County GOP has called on Washoe County GOP Chairman Dave Buell to resign. In concert with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Washoe party filed this year as a federal committee, allowing the NRSC to transfer money to the state and circumvent the state party.

“For people who are unsure of the state party, it gives them another outlet in the county party to be able to bring funds into Nevada to help win races,” Buell said.

Nevada will play a crucial role in determining the next president and control of the Senate. Romney and President Barack Obama are expected to run close in the Silver State, while Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) are running in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.

For now, the delegation has at least two more days together before it returns home. Delegates in states such as Louisiana and Rhode Island, who sit adjacent to Nevada on the convention floor, were probably left wondering Tuesday night what the conversations over Wednesday morning’s eggs and bacon would be like.

“What are you going to do – they’re human beings, too,” said Smith, who is attending her last convention. “You still have to live with people you disagree with.”