ARLINGTON -- Don't tell Ron Paul and his supporters that the race for the GOP presidential nomination is over.
They put Republicans in Texas and beyond on notice Saturday that they plan to take their campaign all the way to the national convention in August in Tampa, Fla.
Paul backers attended Republican Senate district conventions locally and statewide, making a push to gain more control of the party.
One of their chief goals is gaining delegates to the state convention -- and ultimately the national convention -- so they can push Paul's positions in the party platform and help the libertarian-leaning congressman gain the nomination if an unlikely opportunity presents itself.
It was unclear Saturday how much progress Paul supporters made statewide. But a proposal from Senate District 10 -- which is the largest Republican senatorial convention in Tarrant County and which met at Lamar High School in Arlington on Saturday -- to change the way delegates are sent to the state convention failed after about an hour of debate.
"There are not invisible Ron Paul supporters who will pop up and surround you" and take over the party if the change were approved, said Jeremy Blosser, a delegate and Paul supporter who made the proposal. "Look around; see who is there."
Some Republicans who argued against the change said they don't oppose the sentiment behind the proposal -- to ensure that a mix of new and longtime party members could move forward to conventions.
But they didn't want to suddenly change the rules.
"You can say all you want that you are not trying to get certain people elected," delegate Jimmy Braziel said. "We don't need to be changing the rules in the middle of the game."
This was the latest controversy in a presidential election year already marked by political wrangling and court challenges that moved Texas' primary from March to May and caused parties to hold conventions before Texans ever cast a single primary vote.
Next up is the May 29 primary, followed by the party's state convention in early June.
Blosser's proposal, which was called the minority report, would have altered the way delegates are chosen for the state convention and given the responsibility of choosing who moved forward to each precinct.
Under his proposal, members of each precinct would have chosen one delegate and one alternate.
Currently, the convention's nominations committee proposes a list of delegates and alternates, based on activism and enthusiasm, and the convention as a whole votes on the entire proposed slate of delegates.
Blosser said his proposal would have let new Republicans move forward to the state convention. Opponents said it would have pitted husband against wife, neighbor against neighbor.
"This was a fundamental change that would have disenfranchised a great number of longtime activists who have helped build the party," said Kyleen Wright, a longtime member who heads the nominations committee.
The push for Paul
Supporters of Paul, a three-time presidential candidate and Lake Jackson doctor, oppose likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and hope to push the party toward Paul's brand of conservatism. That includes reducing government, bringing troops home, reining in federal spending, and abolishing the Federal Reserve and other government agencies.
As they were with Paul's 2008 presidential bid, his supporters are expected to be a force at state GOP conventions nationwide as they try to become delegates for Paul at the national convention.
They hope for a brokered convention that could open the door for Paul to become the nominee even though he hasn't won a state and holds slightly more than 50 delegates to Romney's nearly 700.
The 12-term congressman has won delegates in states such as Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and Nevada in his third bid for the White House.
He also ran for president in 1988 as a Libertarian and in 2008 as a Republican.
Paul supporters say this can be done, and they offer Warren G. Harding as a prime example. The Republican went into the convention in 1920 with the fewest delegates and walked out the nominee. Harding won on the 10th ballot.
"It's mathematically possible that Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Paul could" claim the nomination, said U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, who was among the candidates who spoke to the convention.
"It's not likely, but it is possible."
Barton, who has endorsed Gingrich, reminded delegates that the St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last strike but came back to beat the Texas Rangers and win the World Series, a comment that prompted boos from delegates.
"Long shots happen," he said.
Throughout the day, speakers at the convention encouraged party unity.
"We come together to ... talk things out until we come to agreement," Jim Borchert, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said during the opening prayer. "It's our desire here today to listen to everyone who has something to say.
"If our house is divided, he won't stand," he said. "Let respect and civility prevail with us. ... The minority must always speak; the majority must always rule."
And before any votes occurred, Tarrant County Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Hall, who has worked for Ron Paul's campaign in the past, urged delegates to cooperate.
"We will all come together to make this a strong party," she said. "It's how the party grows."
The Texas Republican Party's state convention will be in early June in Fort Worth.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610