Should Mitt Romney worry about Ron Paul?

Brad Knickerbocker

Ron Paul has the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hades of becoming the Republican presidential nominee this year. Compared to presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney (switching clichés) the image of gnat vs. elephant comes to mind.

Texas congressman Paul has yet to win a primary election or caucus. Romney has accumulated 10 times as many delegates as Paul (847-80). And yet long after the withdrawal of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (both of whom had won more than twice as many delegates as Paul before quitting), the dedicated libertarian keeps on keepin’ on.

Should Romney be worried about Paul, nipping at his heels as the former Massachusetts governor pivots from the primary season to take on incumbent Barack Obama?

RECOMMENDED: The roar of Ron Paul: Five of his unorthodox views on the economy

As he’s said many times, Paul is promoting a movement as much as a candidacy. In a nutshell, that means anti-big government and anti-war, eliminating five federal departments (Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development), refusing to engage in foreign wars, cutting way back on foreign aid to Israel and other countries.

To keep his message out there he needs to stay a player, and 2012 probably is Paul’s last chance to do that on a national scale.

His chosen venue? Holding the Republican Party to its often-arcane delegate selection rules, especially in state party conventions.

In Maine and Nevada this weekend, Paul’s strategy gets another test. There, state conventions are scheduled to affirm the naming of delegates. In both states, GOP party officials clearly are worried that Paul supporters – always an energetic force to be reckoned with – could use state rules to gain delegates in a way that’s sure to rankle the Republican National Committee (RNC).

“The national Republican organization is increasingly anxious over the ability of the Paul campaign to take over state-level organizations, especially in states like Iowa and Nevada that have outsized importance on the nominating process,” the Hill newspaper reports. “National Republicans worry that if grassroots party loyalists aren't supporting the presumptive nominee, the party could struggle against President Obama's fundraising and organizational efforts.”

Paul and Romney reportedly have a good personal relationship, But that hasn’t hampered Paul’s effort to rail against conventional GOP positions – or his enthusiasm for the fight.

"Just look at this last week,” Paul told Bloomberg TV. “The news is very favorable to us. We could even end up winning Iowa, ironically enough. In Minnesota, we're doing well, and Maine, Nevada, and Missouri. We're doing very, very well. Some of the states we could very well win or come up very much because the delegate process is completely different than these straw votes.”

In Nevada, political analyst Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun puts it this way: “The RNC fears that mischief at the Sparks convention this weekend could result in Ron Paul delegates taking Mitt Romney slots and then not abiding by GOP rules to vote for the presumptive nominee on the first ballot in Tampa,” site of the Republican convention in August.

Even though RNC chief legal counsel John R. Phillippe Jr. warned state party chairman Michael McDonald that the Nevada delegation might not be seated in Tampa if Paul delegates take too many slots, Ralston writes, “I don't think these Paul folks respect authority too much.”

In Maine, meanwhile, Paul supporters hope to stage a takeover at the state GOP convention this weekend.

"Paul's supporters have always been very energetic and very enthusiastic, very dedicated to the cause," Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine, told the Associated Press. They are willing to take the extra steps and attend caucuses, conventions and other party events, he said.

The Paul insurgency comes two years after tea party activists attended the GOP convention in large enough numbers to reject the party platform and put in place their own statement of conservative principles, the AP notes.

Elsewhere around the country, Paul has successfully asserted himself.

Although they’re pledged to back Romney (who won the state’s primary), 17 of 27 delegates selected at the Massachusetts caucuses last weekend support Paul.

Paul won 20 of 24 delegates allocated at congressional district conventions in Minnesota, and they did very well in Louisiana last weekend – winning four and a half of six congressional district caucuses, which gives them 74 percent of the delegates to the state convention next month.

Paul supporters now co-chair the party in Alaska, and they include a majority in the Iowa Republican State Central Committee.

“Taken together, these victories and those yet to happen forecast a prominent role for Ron Paul at the RNC,” Paul campaign manager John Tate told the Washington Post. “They also signal that the convention will feature a spirited discussion over whether conservatism will triumph over the status quo.”

If Paul were to end up with a plurality of delegates from five states, he could be nominated from the convention floor.

This is unlikely to happen, but his effort could win him a prime-time speaking slot and major input to the party’s platform.

RECOMMENDED: The roar of Ron Paul: Five of his unorthodox views on the economy