How did Ron Paul lose Alaska?
Paul's ardent supporters here in the 49th state were on Wednesday casting a wide net, including allegations of polling impropriety, disenfranchisement and other shenanigans by Alaska Republican Party officials.
As the only Republican presidential candidate to make the lonely journey to Alaska this election cycle, and with a groundswell of support from the state's libertarian-leaning independents, many national pundits and local political watchers had expected a Ron Paul win here on Super Tuesday.
It did not come to pass. Paul ended up placing third in Alaska's presidential preference poll. Mitt Romney won Alaska by the skin of his nose, taking 32.4 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. Rick Santorum, in what seemed surprising, came in a strong second here, taking 29.2 percent. Paul received 3,175 votes, or 24 percent of the turnout. That should net Paul about six delegates to the GOP National Convention in August.
It all amounted to some serious, post-Super Tuesday head scratching for the Paul 2012 campaign after their man had lost three states he'd been predicted to win, including Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota. Thousands turned out to see Paul on Sunday in Alaska. Thousands turned out, too, for him in Idaho and North Dakota. Paul went so far to as to predict he'd win at least one or two of them, himself.
Idaho is a Mormon-heavy state so Mitt Romney's domination there seems more understandable. North Dakota has a national reputation for its particular brand of Western social conservatism; Rick Santorum doesn't seem a far-fetched winner there, though Paul came in a respectably close second.
But Alaska? Paul enjoys a deep volunteer base here. His supporters were organized on Tuesday night. It would seem, though, that the campaign simply wasn't able to convert that enthusiasm into victory.
Alaskans for Ron Paul 2012 organizer Evan Cutler said the candidate's supporters and organizers who were out at the polls Tuesday night harbored other suspicions.
"People were turned away at the polls that were registered to vote due to confusion among the poll volunteers. Voter registration databases were outdated," Cutler said his organizers reported, going on to add that, "younger voters, voters of a certain demographic were turned away" and that the campaign had conducted exit polling across the state and that numbers reported by the state party leaders "didn't jibe."
The allegations didn't stop there. Cutler also accused party bosses of levying "poll taxes" of at least $50 for participation in post-vote district conventions. The Paul campaign even accuses Alaska GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich of rigging his own district via teleconference to make sure Mitt Romney -- the state establishment Republican choice -- won a majority.
An email Cutler sent Ruedrich was forwarded to Alaska Dispatch.
"There were some other complaints about the process in your own district," it said. "According to the reports I received, when the District Convention convened there were 7 delegates in your cohort and 7 in the Ron Paul one. Instead of letting people vote then, I was told you instead called supporters from your side one by one until you had enough people on the Romney side on the phone to take all the delegate slots. …"
Did it really happen? "Absolutely not," Ruedrich said in an interview Wednesday night. "It just isn't true, absolutely not true. We did not vote via teleconference even though it would have been fully appropriate."
Ruedrich says that he and another party worker left his district's polling place "to process state data from the preference poll. When we issued an all-data-in report, we returned to the convention because it was still in process. We participated in the vote in person."
Ruedrich went on to refute the poll tax allegations, the disenfranchisement, the other things Paul supporters were whispering. He said complaints were common for a constituency that failed to achieve its objective. But he also said the Paul campaign's accusations were something more than just sour grapes.
"This is a little bit more severe," he said.
While the he-said, she-said continues, one thing is certain: the Alaska Republican Party's rules are labyrinthine. Who knew that people could vote via teleconference in a district convention? Doesn't that seem like a recipe for accusations of preference or vote-weighting?
"It's fully appropriate," Ruedrich said.
The Paul campaign doesn't think so and Cutler said he and other up-and-coming young Republicans weren't pleased with the way Ruedrich was managing the state's GOP.
"Ruedrich and others are bending their own rules for Romney. It's not fair. There's a history of game playing in Alaska's Republican Party. People shouldn't be disenfranchised. They shouldn't have to pay to play. … Ruedrich should probably go," Cutler said.
Alaska's Republican presidential poll is conducted solely by party bosses like Ruedrich and isn't overseen by the state's Division of Elections. Cutler isn't the first conservative to call for Ruedrich's head.
But much mightier politicians (including Sarah Palin) have taken him on, only to be frustrated again and again.
Editor's Note: This article was updated March 8 to clarify that Evan Cutler reported the allegations of Ron Paul for Alaska supporters and organizers.
Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com