Supporters of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul tried to commandeer the Alaska Republican Party convention this weekend in Anchorage. They were disruptive, big in numbers - and partially successful.
Their candidate won the party chairmanship, beating out the man backed by Randy Ruedrich, who has led the party since 2000 and didn't seek another term.
But they didn't win their chief goal of changing the party rules and claiming all 24 state delegates to the national Republican convention for Paul, the favorite of the libertarian wing of the party. Instead, Alaska will send six Paul delegates to Tampa in August.
Failed tea-party backed U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller and his wife, Kathleen, were working the crowd behind the scenes, according to Alaska Dispatch, an online news site.
Kathleen Miller ended up winning a spot as one of Alaska's three electors, Ruedrich said. In that mainly ceremonial post, she would cast one of the state's votes for U.S. president in the Electoral College should the Republican nominee win Alaska.
Ruedrich has been credited with being the architect of the GOP's dominance in state elections for the past decade. Last year, he played a key role in redrawing legislative boundaries, a map now challenged in court.
Now he has to turn over control of the party to chair-elect Russ Millette, who by party rules will take charge in 2013, after the fall elections, Ruedrich said Sunday. As a precaution to preserve continuity, the state party transferred $100,000 destined for candidates to a Juneau Republican group, he said.
Efforts to reach Millette, 66, Sunday were unsuccessful. He is little-known in GOP circles. Ruedrich said Millette attended the 2008 state convention but he didn't know much about his history.
"I am looking forward to learning that," Ruedrich said.
The developments at the GOP convention, which ended Saturday at the Hilton Anchorage downtown, quickly drew national attention.
"Ron Paul's Alaska payback," headlined a short column posted Sunday on Politico.com, the national political website. Winning the party chairmanship is a big step, Politico said. "It's more evidence of the political maturation of the Paul forces, who are beginning to seize the levers of powers from within state parties."
Millette told the Dispatch that he has lived in Alaska off and on since 1975 and most recently came back in 2005. He said he tried for the party leadership post because of a "tug from God."
"They tried every maneuver they could, but God prevailed," Millette told the crowd at an after-party downtown, according to the Dispatch.
At the convention, the pro-Paul convention crowd was so boisterous, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski - a supporter of presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney - couldn't give her planned speech on Friday. A YouTube video shows her guest, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, struggling to make himself heard over boos and shouts of "Ron Paul! Ron Paul!"
Murkowski was invited back Saturday and gave her speech then. Ruedrich said the Paul camp apologized.
Ruedrich said he wanted to give up the chairman's spot two years ago, but survived a challenge and stuck with it through redistricting. For his replacement, Ruedrich backed Bruce Schulte, who organized the convention. But when the Paul factor became clear, Schulte gave up his spot and threw his support behind another contender, Judy Eledge, president of the Anchorage Republican women's club.
That wasn't enough.
Ruedrich said as far as he knows, never have so many Republican delegates - some 480 - turned out for a state party convention. Every legislative district was represented, which he also believes is a first.
The Paul supporters tried to engineer the convention to claim delegates for the national convention but couldn't out maneuver the old guard led by Ruedrich.
An email sent out Thursday by someone who said he was with the Paul camp urged like-minded Republicans to do whatever it took to win.
"This is a numbers game. If more of Dr. Paul's supporters turn out than other candidate's delegates, we control them," said the email, signed by someone who identified himself as Mike Cook. "If more of our people show up, we take over the state convention, we change the rules, and we take over the Republican Party. Turnout is key."
The organizer asked for Paul supporters to provide their cellphone numbers so that leaders could text them during the convention and make sure they voted as a bloc. "Deception and Misinformation - use any means necessary to divide and conquer our opponents," Thursday's email said.
The email's authenticity couldn't be determined, but the convention largely played out along its script.
Under national Republican Party rules, if a presidential candidate can secure the support of delegates from five states at the national convention, they can attempt to win the nomination even if they haven't won a single state primary or poll, Ruedrich said. That would give Paul, who at best has made it to second or third place in state primaries, at least a theoretical shot at winning the nomination.
"We were fortunate last night just to get the election finished," he said. "It was a tedious election process. Things ran slow."
In the end, the number of Alaska delegates pledged to presidential candidates didn't change from what Republicans decided in their March presidential preference poll, Ruedrich said.
"That was the biggest fight," Ruedrich said.
Paul was the only Republican presidential candidate to visit Alaska before the the March poll. He placed a close third behind Romney and Rick Santorum, who each have eight delegates. Newt Gingrich ended with two.
Reporter Casey Grove contributed to this story. Lisa Demer can be reached at 500-7388 or firstname.lastname@example.org.