Washington state's Romney, Paul delegates try to mend rift
This week's Republican National Convention is aimed at unifying the party. But among Washington's delegates, the small camp supporting Ron Paul and the larger group backing Mitt Romney have largely gone their separate ways the past couple of days.
Seattle Times political reporter
Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner is in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. Follow our coverage in print and online at seattletimes.com.
TAMPA, Fla. — Washington's delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa this week checked into the same Clearwater Beach hotel and were handed identical credentials and elephant lapel pins.
But over the past couple days, the small camp supporting Ron Paul and the larger group backing Mitt Romney have largely gone their separate ways.
The pro-Romney majority boarded a bus Sunday for a reception at a yacht and golf club, followed by a lavish welcoming party at Tropicana Field with free booze and live music.
The Paul crowd got on a separate bus for the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida, where a daylong roster of speakers and musicians celebrated the uncompromising Texas congressman. Afterward they headed to their own beach party at Whiskey Joe's, a Tampa tourist bar.
The split itineraries of the Washington delegation illustrate the larger tensions that remain between the Paul minority and the rest of the delegates in Tampa who are expected to officially nominate Romney for president Tuesday.
While both sides say they're getting to know each other better, there have also been some wary looks and testy exchanges.
Some Paul volunteers slipped fliers under hotel-room doors suggesting delegates didn't have to support Romney's nomination — a move that irritated some members of the delegation.
King County County Republican Party Chairman Lori Sotelo and a Paul supporter got short with one another at the delegation's hosted hospitality suite — an exchange that state GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur says he ended by telling them "not in here, take it outside."
"There is a minimum amount of resentment among our delegation," Wilbur said. He attributed it to "four or five people on both sides who are antagonistic."
Of the 43 Washington delegates, five are pledged to Ron Paul. Other Paul supporters are among the alternate delegates and guests attending the convention.
Some GOP stalwarts are puzzled by the continued refusal by Paul and his supporters to fall in line behind Romney. Party unity, they say, is the entire purpose of the Tampa gathering for Republicans who want to defeat President Obama.
"It's almost like going to the Apple Cup and rooting for USC," said Dino Rossi, the two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate and state senator from Sammamish, who is in Tampa as a Romney delegate. "There are only two teams on the field."
"We're supposed to lock arms and do what we can to elect our nominee," said Sotelo. "It would be nice if Ron Paul would talk about unity of the party."
Some Paul backers are ready to get behind Romney, even if reluctantly.
"I pledged at the state convention I will support the eventual nominee, and it looks like that will be Romney," said Trevor Winton, 29, a Paul delegate from Vancouver.
Yet even with Romney set to accept the nomination, some Paul supporters still aren't ready to vote for him in November. They say they don't know whether he can be trusted on core conservative issues such as cutting federal spending — both for entitlements and foreign wars.
"We've done a very horrible job of vetting this candidate and where he stands," said Derrin Tallman, 30, an alternate delegate from Seattle. "I don't want another Bush."
"I don't want to divide the party. The nominee is dividing the party," said Katja Delavar, a Paul delegate from Washougal, Clark County. She said Romney's past pro-abortion-rights positions bother her.
The Paul supporters also are angry at moves by the Republican establishment to crack down on dissent. They pointed, for example, to a proposed rule change that would give candidates the right to reject and replace delegates sent in their names to the national convention.
The move was seen as a response to takeovers of some state conventions and caucuses by Paul supporters.
The idea has drawn criticism far beyond the Paul camp, and Wilbur urged Washington delegates at a Monday breakfast to oppose it if it comes to a floor vote at the convention.
Meanwhile, despite the tensions that remain between them, Paul and Romney backers here say they want to get to know and trust each better as the week goes on.
"We're here and we're all together. If we want to win this election we have to be united," Sotelo said.
Instead of running to separate events, the two groups are likely to be boarding the same delegation buses beginning Tuesday, and sitting together for hours on the convention floor.
"Part of my mission here is to make a genuine connection to the other delegates," said Matt Dubin, an attorney and Paul delegate from Seattle who also was Paul's grass-roots campaign chairman in the state.
After all, the Paul backers agree with Romney supporters more than they disagree.
"Certainly we wouldn't be welcome in the Democrat party," Dubin said. "We want smaller government."
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or seattletimes.com">email@example.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.