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June 2, 2012

Ron Paul's supporters ready to fight for his principles at state GOP convention in Fort Worth

Texas Republicans head to Fort Worth for this week's gathering of state delegates and officials.

FORT WORTH -- A revolution may be coming to Texas this week.

Republicans are heading to Fort Worth to attend their party's state convention -- a time dedicated to energizing the party faithful, setting goals and unifying behind presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But they are likely to find themselves embroiled in the never-say-die movement by followers of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson.

Paul's supporters have become a presence at state GOP conventions nationwide, working to send more of their delegates to the national convention, where they hope to make the libertarian-leaning Paul the presidential nominee or put key proposals of his, such as reducing the federal government and abolishing the Federal Reserve, in the GOP platform.

"We are tired of getting the same stuff over and over again," said Kory Watkins, 29, of Mansfield, who supports Paul and is a delegate for the first time. "Every day, more and more people are waking up ... and becoming more in tune to what's going on.

"There's a new world order and big-government establishment is taking over," he said. "We want to go back to the country our forefathers built for us through the Constitution."

Paul supporters hope to have a large enough presence among the 18,000 delegates and alternates meeting in Fort Worth to send a sizable number of like-minded Republicans to the national convention.

Along the way, there may be a Texas-size fight over party rules to allow those national delegates to support the presidential candidate of their choice rather than requiring them to be bound by the choice Texans made when they voted in Tuesday's primary.

And there may be efforts to alter the state party platform to incorporate more of Paul's beliefs, which include limited government, personal liberty and a balanced budget.

Longtime Republicans say they hope the party doesn't lose sight of the goal: reclaiming the White House in November.

"My hope for the convention is that we rally behind our nominee," said longtime local Republican Kyleen Wright, a state delegate. "We need to help push [Romney] up with our numbers, and we need to be prepared to do strike force teams in other states to help.

"There's a lot at stake," she said. "We all understand the need to beat [President] Barack Obama, and the Republican nominee offers us the best opportunity."

The convention

The gathering kicks off Thursday at the Fort Worth Convention Center with speeches from Gov. Rick Perry and state Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Committees will meet through the week to decide on delegate challenges, potential rule changes and the party platform before presenting the issues to the full convention.

Congressional leaders -- U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn -- will speak Friday, along with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Comptroller Susan Combs and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson are expected to speak Saturday, according to a tentative schedule.

The three-day convention also features Paul, who is making his third bid for president; former presidential candidate Rick Santorum; and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, both of Wisconsin.

By the end of Saturday, the party should have adopted a platform and chosen delegates for the national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

"We hope at this time we can unite as a party and move forward to November and victory," said Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.

Potential fights

Paul supporters are expected to influence three key areas: amending the party platform, setting party rules and seeking delegate slots to the national convention.

"We are trying to influence the party platform and kind of get the Republicans back to our conservative roots," said Justin Machacek, 32, of Fort Worth, a first-time delegate who is on the national advisory board of the Evangelicals for Ron Paul Coalition. "We want to get back to the true conservative platform -- fiscal responsibility, civil liberties and strong national defense."

Paul supporters are expected to challenge a rule adopted this year that requires national delegates' votes on the first ballot for the presidential nominee to reflect the choice made by Texans in the primary.

Traditionally, Texas' delegates have been required in the first four rounds of voting at the national convention to reflect the choice made by primary voters.

The rule change releases them from that requirement after the first round.

But Paul supporters may push to not be bound to the state's presidential pick during the first round of voting.

Some say a rule change isn't necessary at the Texas GOP convention because state rules don't apply to the national convention.

"Once you get to national, the rules will be adopted there," said Watkins, who delayed his wedding this year to make sure that he and his wife, Janie, who is also a delegate, could attend a senatorial convention to support Paul.

"Say at the national convention, Romney has the majority [of delegates] and wants his delegates to be bound to him there," then he would be chosen as the nominee.

In turn, though, if Paul supporters hold a majority and approve rules that release delegates from being bound to the candidate chosen by voters, they could vote to make Paul the Republican presidential nominee, Watkins said.

Either way, the issue is likely to arise at the state GOP convention.

"I have a tendency to avoid changing the rules in the middle of the game in order to achieve a specific outcome that is not what the rules would make right now," said Steve Hollern, a former Tarrant County Republican Party chairman who will be a delegate and a member of the convention's rules committee. "But I'm open to discussing these things."

Paul has encouraged his supporters to keep fighting for the cause they share, and he said he sees progress.

"The revolution is working," Paul said last month, as he stood in front of the Texas Capitol for a rally.

"We have infiltrated the Republican Party, and we will convert the Republican Party into defenders of liberty."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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