The Republican presidential race is on the verge of heating back up in Minnesota.

More than three months after the state's precinct caucuses, a showdown is in the offing at the state GOP convention in Rochester this weekend.

Long-shot insurgent candidate Ron Paul plans to speak to his supporters Friday morning, just before the convention begins. Then, those supporters hope to nab as many of the 14 national convention delegate spots that remain up for grabs as they can.

"We're not looking for fireworks, and we're not looking to disrupt the campaign," said longtime GOP activist Marianne Stebbins, who has been running Paul's campaign in Minnesota.

"From our perspective, John McCain's the presumptive Republican nominee," said state Republican Party spokesman Mark Drake. "It's been fought here, Paul lost here and it's time to move forward. Case closed. He had his chance and didn't get it done."

This pending dust-up pitting the party establishment against the supporters of the Texas congressman has been replicated in state after state since McCain became the Republicans' presumptive nominee weeks ago.

Although Paul has received only about 5 percent of the votes cast in GOP primaries, his activists are swarming local Republican party committees and conventions, lining up delegates in states such as Alaska, Missouri, Florida, Texas and Washington.

Although they acknowledge that they realistically can't amass enough delegates to wrest the nomination from McCain, they hope to secure a speaking spot for their candidate when the national party meets in St. Paul.

A pickup in Minnesota

In Minnesota, the Paul forces staged an unexpected coup last month, when they captured six national convention delegates awarded at congressional district meetings. Informally, Stebbins said, another one or two have migrated to Paul since then.

Minnesota's 38 delegates to the national GOP convention are selected in a multi-tier process that started with precinct caucuses and ends at this weekend's state convention.

During the Feb. 5 caucuses, which amounted to a nonbinding GOP beauty contest, Paul won only 15 percent of the vote, trailing McCain, Mike Huckabee and winner Mitt Romney. But here, as has happened nationwide, Paul has been a prodigious online fundraiser and grass-roots organizer among people who respond passionately to his anti-war, anti-tax, libertarian message.

Stebbins said the Paul contingent will focus on the state convention's rules committee process, which will focus on which convention delegates to seat. "We want changes in the rules that will open up the process to the grass roots," she said. "We just don't want this just open to the handpicked [party chairman Ron] Carey delegates."

E-mails recently written by Carey and Stebbins to GOP activists underscore a potentially deep split going into the state convention.

'A serious challenge'

Carey's reads, in part: "Every Ron Paul supporter will be in Rochester to swell their ranks. Empty chairs will be filled with Ron Paul Alternates. Please take this as a serious challenge. I need your help to motivate EVERY member of your delegation to get to Rochester and be in their chairs at 9 AM Friday at the latest (not 10 AM ... 9 AM). ... We need to have a full convention delegation that reflects the strong majority support across the state for our presumptive nominee, John McCain."

He was responding to an e-mail that Stebbins had sent to her list of Paul supporters: "Long story short, in order for us to win these fourteen national delegate spots, we need every last delegate and alternate for Ron Paul there. Alternates will be seated and will probably make the difference for us. It's going to be a squeaker and could easily come down to one or two votes."

She later responded to Carey's e-mail: "Your country, the future of the Republican Party, and the interests of fair, honest elections are depending on you."

Asked about the potential of a ruinous split at the convention, Drake said party officials "expect a good convention. We're excited about it ... Our emphasis is going to be on the overwhelming percentage of Republicans who accept John McCain."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-6737184