ROCHESTER - The leadership of the state Republican Party beat back a challenge Friday from supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul, dashing their hopes of sending additional Paul delegates to the national convention in St. Paul three months from now.
With 14 delegates up for grabs, supporters of presumptive nominee John McCain won them all, after several hours of sometimes bitter arguments and confrontations on the floor of the GOP's state convention.
Boos, shouted protests and parliamentary maneuvers consumed part of the convention's first day, at one point degenerating into a brief shoving match between a McCain supporter and a Paul backer.
Paul's libertarian mix of anti-war, anti-tax and anti-big-government stands has attracted substantial grass-roots support nationwide, and despite his setback Friday, he has picked up at least six national-convention delegates in Minnesota at congressional conventions this spring.
Marianne Stebbins, a longtime party activist who headed Paul's Minnesota campaign, failed to be named a national convention delegate. Taking the podium before the voting, she implored her fellow Republicans: "We do think the party is losing its way ... it's strayed from its core principles."
Carey defends exclusion
Some of Paul's backers complained that party officials unfairly stacked its slate of preferred candidates, a vetting process defended by party chairman Ron Carey. Serving as a national convention delegate "is not an entry-level job," he said. "We looked at people who truly had quality, not just people who raised their hand at the last minute."
Among the GOP heavyweights elected as national delegates were U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state House Minority Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall.
Before the voting on delegates began, Carey defended the party's treatment of Paul and his supporters.
Party officials had banned Paul from addressing the state convention, something the 10-term congressman from Texas parried by holding an outdoor rally with a few hundred supporters early Friday. Carey called the exclusion of Paul "consistent with our party's rules."
"We have our presumptive nominee," he added.
Paul's backers, who Carey estimated represented no more than a quarter of the delegates at the convention, were easily turned back in their attempt to change the convention rules, which would have made it easier for them to win some of the 14 national delegates.
Paul's supporters in several other states have been able to win delegate spots in an attempt to win him a speaking role at the national convention. "In other states, they fought tooth and nail," Carey said. "Here, it was over and done with in five minutes."
Even so, the convention was repeatedly slowed to a crawl with bouts of parliamentary wrangling.
Carey was conciliatory -- somewhat -- toward Paul's supporters. "We want the Ron Paul people to be part of the party -- they are part of the party. But the game's been played, and it was won by McCain."
The Paul rally
At his rally, Paul told backers that his candidacy will ultimately fall short to McCain's but that he still hopes they will be able to play a part at the national convention in St. Paul. His supporters' fight for national convention delegates in several states seeks to secure a speaking spot.
His supporters, disenchanted with what they view as McCain's lack of conservative bona fides, are devoted to Paul's cause, win or lose. "It ain't gonna happen this time, but we've planted a seed and are going to keep at this revolution election cycle after cycle," said Colin Wilkinson, a convention alternate from St. Paul. "I won't be chattel -- we either own the government or the government owns us."
Staff writers Mark Brunswick and McKenna Ewen contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184