There was an elephant in the room at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, and his name was Ron Paul.
Despite pleas from the stage of the Tampa Bay Times Forum for party unity, three of Arizona’s 29 delegates voted for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to be the party’s presidential nominee this fall. They joined 187 others who bucked the party and refused to vote for frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Ultimately it did not make a difference, as Romney received 2,061 votes, well over the 1,144 needed to secure the nomination. But to Paul delegates, it was an important statement.
“This convention is not meant to be scripted,” said John Laurie, a delegate from Gilbert and one of the three from Arizona to vote for Paul.
Arizona was one of several states, including Maine and Nevada, that split their delegates between Paul and Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who recently tapped Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate.
During the roll call of the states, when delegations announce their votes, Gov. Jan Brewer brought a cheer from the hall when she announced that 26 Arizona votes went to Romney – then paused before adding that three delegation votes went to Paul.
“Gov. Romney may not be from the West, but he’s a Westerner at heart,” Brewer said as she announced the tally. “He embodies our Western spirit and shows all that can be achieved with the American formula of hard work, faith and opportunity and freedom.
“I am proud today to advance and announce that Arizona, the Grand Canyon State, casts 26 votes in … nomination of Mitt Romney … and three votes for Ron Paul,” she said.
Laurie, attending his first convention, challenged the claim that Arizona is a winner-take-all state, with the delegation casting all its votes for the top vote-getter in the state’s presidential primary.
Arizona law says a delegate “shall use his best efforts” to vote on the first ballot at the convention for the nominee who won the most primary votes. But Laurie said he had researched other rules that led him to believe he could vote for his candidate of choice.
He said he is unconcerned about the possible blowback from other delegates.
“I have rough skin,” Laurie said.
Two other delegates joined him in breaking ranks. Jill Skaufel, of Concho, said she followed Arizona law by trying her best to consider voting for Romney, but in the end there was only one choice for her.
“I voted with my conscience,” Skaufel said.
Carolyn Cox, a delegate and chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, said Romney should have received all of Arizona’s votes.
“The citizens of Arizona gave the majority of their votes to Mitt Romney,” she said.
In the end, House Speaker John Boehner declared that Romney had received 2,061 delegate votes to secure the nomination. Romney is expected to formally accept the nomination Thursday.
Cox said she’s looking toward the general election now.
“Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and that’s who we will work for,” she said.
Delegate Marla Festenese said she is “thrilled” that Romney and Ryan will be the Republican ticket in the general election this fall.
“I have a very good feeling that we’re winning it,” Festenese said, as she picked up her Romney sign from her seat and then started to walk out of the convention floor with a smile.