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Romney, Paul Supporters Clash At Nevada GOP Convention

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Mitt Romney's list of challenges has dwindled when it comes to the Nevada primary. (credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney’s list of challenges has dwindled when it comes to the Nevada primary. (credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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SPARKS, Nev. (AP) — It was out with the old Saturday at Nevada’s state Republican convention, where two incumbents were ousted from the Republican National Committee and balloting stretched into the night to select delegates to the GOP presidential nominating convention this summer.

National Committeewoman Heidi Smith and Committeeman Bob List, former Nevada governor, were shirked by state convention goers and replaced by Diana Orrock of Clark County and James Smack of Fallon, capping a day of political discord, frustration with the status quo and clashes between supporters of long-shot presidential hopeful Ron Paul and the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Smith came in last in a three-way contest, and her fate appeared inevitable when, after a brief speech touting her contributions to the party, she held up a Romney sign and was summarily booed by Paul backers.

The new RNC assignments do not take effect until August, after the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Earlier in the day, Paul energized a loud, loyal following with familiar themes, calling for limited government, limited spending and personal freedoms.

Paul told a cheering crowd he’d cut $1 trillion from the federal budget and that people should have a “God-given right” to keep what they earn.

“I don’t think the Republican Party should be known for bailing out Wall Street,” he said to cheers.

Paul has yet to win a state primary or a caucus outright, but his ardent backers have been turning out in large numbers at county and state conventions around the country to try to win delegates to the national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. Their strategy is to try to influence the national party platform or vote for Paul if Romney, does not win the nomination on the first ballot.

Cutting government waste and fraud are not enough to control government, Paul said, because “government itself is wasteful, fraudulent and abusive.”

He received resounding applause after his 16-minute speech as the crowd chanted, “President Paul, President Paul.”

Romney won Nevada’s caucus in February with half of the vote. Under party rules adopted last fall, Romney should get 20 of Nevada’s 28 delegates for the national convention. Paul would get eight. Under state party rules, the delegates would be bound to vote in first-round balloting at the national convention based at that breakdown.

Delegates to Saturday’s convention were evenly split, and both sides tried to out-shout each other in the convention hall at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

Earlier in the week, a lawyer for the Republican National Committee suggested Nevada’s national delegates could be barred from the national convention if Paul backers packed the state contingent to the national convention. Paul supporters countered that nothing in state rules required allegiance to any particular candidate — only that they vote proportionally in the first round.

Carl Bunce, Paul’s Nevada campaign chairman, has said supporters of the Texas congressman would abide by convention rules, but has also said he can’t control what they do if they are named a national delegate.

The issue appeared to have deflated by Saturday afternoon, though national delegates had not yet been picked as the convention dragged into the night.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and party leaders called for civility and unity to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

“When we leave this convention, when we leave the national convention, we are one party with one cause,” Krolicki said.

Romney’s son, Josh Romney, received wide applause when he told the convention Nevada is important to his father’s presidential quest.

“We’ve been campaigning hard here,” he said. “My dad’s going to be here a lot.”

But when chants of “Mitt, Mitt, Mitt” erupted at the end of his speech, they were quickly drowned out by shouts of “Paul, Paul, Paul” by the large contingent of Paul supporters.

Four years ago, party officials shut down the state convention when it appeared Paul would take most of Nevada’s delegates to the national convention. This year backers of the conservative Texas congressman have taken control of the Republican Party in Clark County, the state’s largest, and claimed a large share of seats on the state GOP central committee.

Besides the chaos of the convention four years ago, the Nevada GOP suffered national embarrassment when it took two days to count February’s caucus results in Clark County. Last month the central committee elected Michael McDonald state party chair, the party’s fourth since late 2009.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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