AUGUSTA — With Ron Paul forces at the reins, the Maine Republican Convention elected nearly all of the slate supporting the Texas congressman at the GOP national convention during a chaotic, two-day state convention that ended Sunday.
In a series of votes highlighting the deep division within the state GOP, 23 of the 24 delegates from Maine headed to the GOP nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., will support Paul. The other delegate goes to Charles Webster, chairman of the state GOP, who has remained uncommitted throughout the process.
In addition, Paul supporters captured most of the seats on the state Republican committee, party officials said, making their takeover virtually complete.
"It's certainly a significant victory," said Jim Azzola of South Portland, Cumberland County coordinator for Paul.
Ron Paul supporters, who took over the convention Saturday after electing a convention chairman, say Maine would become the sixth state to elect a majority of Paul supporters to the national convention, assuring the libertarian-leaning congressman a prime-time podium at the Tampa gathering.
Paul finished a close second behind the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Maine's GOP caucuses in February but those results were nonbinding.
Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter who lost Saturday's bid to chair the convention, called the turn of events at the Maine convention "bizarre." Cragin said the Paul-led delegation may not be recognized at the national convention because of violations of rules of procedure this weekend in Augusta.
"They have so phenomenally screwed this up that they will go to Tampa and not be seated," Cragin said.
The announcement of Maine's at-large delegates came in the wake of charges and counter-charges of ballot tampering and other indiscretions leading to the election of a Paul slate and the mainstream faction's efforts to block it.
Paul supporters accused the Romney crowd of photocopying copies of the Paul slate and substituting Romney backers to trick delegates.
"We came here to see democracy in action. We are floored by what happened, absolutely floored to see the cheating," said Elizabeth Shardlow of Auburn, a Paul activist.
Cragin said Paul supporters bent and suspended the rules of procedure in their favor, endangering the state's standing when the national convention's credentials committee reviews this weekend's delegate-selection process.
"When you have no rules, you have anarchy," Cragin said.
Another Romney supporter, delegate John Carson of Kittery, acknowledged "this is a split convention."
"The Paul supporters have had a successful process and should be congratulated on that," said Carson, a veteran of numerous state conventions. "I think it's important that the Romney camp and Paul camp come together and support a single candidate," Carson said, adding that candidate should be Romney.
The state convention was one of the best attended, with nearly 2,800 delegates, if not the best attended ever, party leaders said. Despite the division, many mainstream Republicans who were outflanked by the Paul supporters drew consolation from the injection of new energy in the party.
The takeover also resulted in numerous procedural delays and sniping between the two factions, which slowed the closing past the scheduled time and robbed the six candidates for a U.S. Senate nomination for Sen. Olympia Snowe's seat of a chance to address delegates from the podium.
"I am disappointed that the opportunity to address Republicans from throughout Maine was lost to the chaos of the convention," said one of the candidates, state Attorney General William Schneider. "I was looking forward to sharing my personal story and positions on the issues with Republicans from all 16 counties."