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Kevin Erickson, a Minnesota delegate for Ron Paul, made his opinion known at last week’s Republican National Convention.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Romney has work to do with Ron Paul believers

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON
  • Star Tribune
  • September 1, 2012 - 7:12 PM

TAMPA, FLA. - Despite calls for unity, Minnesota's Ron Paul delegates to the Republican National Convention do not appear immediately ready to throw their arms around GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

"A lot of the liberty people are still undecided at this point," delegation leader Marianne Stebbins said.

Minnesota's delegation was at the center of the Paul insurgency at last week's three-day convention, providing a sometimes tense friction that at times prevented the drama-free coronation that Romney supporters sought.

Supporters of the libertarian Texas congressman kept up the pressure throughout the week, starting with a raucous rally before the convention, followed by a frenzied behind-the-scenes rules fight and then a defiant news conference hours before Romney accepted the nomination.

Even in the final moments of the convention, many of Paul's "liberty Republicans" were not ready to come aboard.

While it is doubtful many small-government libertarians will vote for President Obama, the fact that the Romney campaign has to spend any time firming up their support could be a distraction as supporters now hope to focus on wooing independent and undecided voters.

Many Paul supporters still see Romney as another big-government Republican not serious about decreasing government's footprint.

In a race that's already excruciatingly close, losing Paul supporters -- or at least having them sit out the election season -- could prove a crucial factor in the outcome.

Stebbins said Romney still has work to do in repairing the rift and tapping the energy of the party's grass-roots activists. "They've lost a lot of their energy, and you can't win if you stifle the grass roots," she said.

Unique among states

Minnesota's delegation stood out at the convention since 33 of its 40 members voted for Paul, the single-largest bloc of any state. Six voted for Romney; one voted for Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The break from other states was vivid as many members sat quietly on the convention floor as speaker after speaker extolled Romney's virtues.

In a bid to get Paul delegates on aboard, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended a breakfast meeting of the state's delegates to talk about the need to fall in line behind Romney.

"We have to be a team," said Pawlenty, warning that no single coalition can be successful on its own. "If one part of the coalition prevails at that moment and may not have been anyone's first choice, it is important that we have a team perspective. If my candidate or your candidate wins in a particular cycle, we are all on the same team."

Confident in outcome

Afterward, Pawlenty, who has emerged as a top Romney surrogate, said he believed the Paul supporters will eventually join the team and help defeat the president.

"I am confident that all of the conservative coalitions, including the Ron Paul, libertarian, Tea Party, national security, economic conservatives, will fall in behind and enthusiastically support Mitt," Pawlenty said.

Not everybody found Pawlenty persuasive.

Paul delegate Jim Bendtsen said he was not yet convinced that Romney is committed to a less intrusive government.

"I am just going to have to keep listening to what he says," he said.

Staff writer Kevin Diaz contributed to this report.

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