Ron Paul remains the longest of long shots to win the Republican presidential nomination, but his Minnesota supporters aren't going quietly.
Over the weekend, they captured six of a dozen GOP national convention delegates elected at congressional district meetings. The rebellion has left local party officials crying foul, even as state leaders downplay the importance of the unexpected result.
"They'll be national delegates, but at the end of the day, that doesn't change anything because John McCain is going to be our nominee," said party spokesman Mark Drake.
But Marianne Stebbins, who has headed the Texas congressman's Minnesota campaign for several months, called the victories a tactical triumph designed to bring Paul's libertarian message to the broadest possible audience.
"If we get enough delegates," she said, "we'll be able to get [Paul] speaking time at the convention."
Delighted about what was something of a coup over the Republican establishment, she added, "We're just a bunch of disorganized people who happened to get lucky. At least that's the impression we want to leave."
Paul ran far behind most of the GOP field in most primaries and contests.
Paul also won only 15 percent of the vote in a nonbinding preference ballot at Minnesota's caucuses, but he was a prodigious fundraiser and grass-roots organizer.
And Minnesota isn't the only state where his supporters have refused to give up. According to news accounts, they've won county or congressional district delegates in Missouri, Texas and Washington.
McCain camp unperturbed
With Minnesota hosting the GOP convention in September, strong support for Paul in the Minnesota delegation might be seen as an embarrassment to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a strong McCain supporter who is considered to be on the short list of possible vice presidential picks.
But Ben Golnik, volunteer coordinator for McCain in Minnesota, said that Paul's support in the state has nothing to do with Pawlenty. "This is a people's party, and it's up to the activists," he said. "As much as anyone, we believe in local control."
In Minnesota, 38 Republican delegates to the national convention are selected in a multi-tier process that starts with precinct caucuses and ends with the state convention. Delegates have been selected in six of the state's eight congressional districts, with Paul supporters winning seven of the 24 seats chosen to date. Six more delegates will be selected in the remaining two districts, and the rest will be chosen at the state party convention next month.
In last Saturday's contests, perhaps the biggest surprise occurred in the heavily Republican Sixth district, where U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was elected one of the three delegates and the other two were Paul supporters.
Nearly 200 candidates were vying for the three seats.
"We knew they were coming and they were willing to lie, cheat and steal -- maybe not steal, but they were willing to say anything," Andy Aplinkowski, the district's vice chairman, said of the Paul supporters.
The delegate candidates were asked to answer whether they supported John McCain. The Paul supporters were elected under false pretenses, Aplinkowski said.
Not so, said Rob Baert, a part-time teacher from Sauk Rapids who was elected a delegate. "McCain's not even nominated yet," he said. "But if he is, I'll support him, and that's what I said."
Realizing that the Paul supporters were rolling to victory, Aplikowski made a motion that would bind the delegates to McCain at the national convention. It was approved, but he said he doesn't know if it's legally enforceable.
Mixed results in 4th, 5th
In the Fourth and Fifth districts, considerably more Democratic than the Sixth, the results were more mixed. More than 250 voting delegates at the Fifth District convention elected three delegates widely known to be Paul supporters, said district chairman Carleton Crawford.
"It wasn't dishonest," Crawford said. "My presumption would be that Minneapolis and its western suburbs would be one of the highest areas of Ron Paul supporters in the country and definitely in Minnesota, and that among the delegates attending the convention, the majority was Ron Paul supporters."
Juliette Jordal, a Minneapolis producer who was one of the three delegates elected for the Fifth District, said she ran to help steer the party back to its quintessential Republican roots: rugged individualism, fiscal conservatism and individual liberty.
"My literature and my [convention] speech reflected beliefs that I espoused personally. I didn't talk about [Paul] specifically," she said.
Golnik said that the results of congressional district conventions don't reflect McCain's strong overall support among state Republicans.
"I would say John McCain's campaign is focused on the general election," Golnik said.