TAMPA, Fla. -- Despite calls for unity, Minnesota’s Ron Paul delegates at 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,” said delegation leader Marianne Stebbins.
Minnesota’s delegation was at the center of the Ron Paul insurgency at the three-day convention that ended Thursday, providing a sometimes tense friction that at times prevented the drama-free coronation that Romney supporters sought.
Supporters of libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul kept up the pressure throughout the week, starting with a raucous Paul rally before the convention, 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 a razor-thin close election.
Stebbins said Romney still has work to do in repairing the rift and tapping the energy of the party’s grassroots activists.
“They’ve lost a lot of their energy, and you can’t win if you stifle the grassroots,” she said.
Minnesota’s delegation stood out at the convention since 33 of its 40 members voted for Paul, the single-largest bloc of any delegation. Six voted for Romney; one voted for Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
The break from other states was vivid when many members sat quietly on the convention floor as speaker after speaker bestowed the virtues of Romney.
In a bid to get Paul delegates to come aboard, former 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.”
Afterward, Pawlenty, who has emerged as a top Romney surrogate in recent months, said he believes Paul supporters will eventually join the team and help defeat President Barack Obama.
“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 is not yet convinced 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.