TAMPA, Fla. - After days of open bickering, backroom intrigue and strong-arm politics, Nevada delegates to the Republican National Convention return home divided over whether Mitt Romney is the best man to challenge President Barack Obama for the White House.
Nevada Republican Party leaders argued Thursday, the day Romney accepted the GOP nomination, that the internal party divisions on display wouldn't matter and an energized GOP would unify behind Romney as voters begin to pay more attention with the Nov. 6 election two months away.
The holdouts among Ron Paul supporters, who lost an attempt to nominate their candidate from the convention floor, were never going to back Romney at the ballot box. And even some disappointed Paul proponents in Tampa said they now want Romney to win because he would be better than Obama.
"I'm not going to work against the Republican ticket," said Carl Bunce, a Nevada delegate and Paul's campaign chairman in Nevada. "What happened here is not going to affect who turns out to vote for him, except for the people who were disrespected. They probably wouldn't vote for him anyway."
The Clark County Republican Party, led by Paul backers such as Bunce, its vice chairman, will continue to promote the Texan congressman's libertarian ideas and candidates to expand the movement, he said.
"We're not going to exit the party by any means," Bunce said.
He added that if Republicans can win control of the White House and the Senate and maintain a majority in the House, some of Paul's fiscal and libertarian ideas and calls to audit the Federal Reserve may gain traction. "I'm willing to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, especially Romney. He's going to be more on my side at least."
The vocal Paul faction in Southern Nevada may continue to cause internal party strife, but the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have taken over most of the get-out-the-vote organizing in the battleground state to ensure GOP squabbling doesn't cost Romney the election.
"Most Nevada Republicans are motivated to get rid of Barack Obama," said former Gov. Bob List, a Nevada delegate for Romney and the outgoing Republican National Committeeman. "And they're going to work hard for Governor Romney. My take is that the dissension here is going to have no effect at all in Nevada. There are a lot of Paul people who will get behind Romney, too."
Although the convention was designed as a televised platform to showcase Romney and his vice presidential running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Nevada delegation was among a half-dozen states that tried to upset the party coronation of the GOP standard bearer.
The RNC squashed the Paul movement, however, by changing the convention rules, which made useless petitions submitted from a majority of delegates in Nevada and five other states to nominate Paul.
In response, Wayne Terhune, chairman of the delegation and a Paul backer, allowed 17 of Nevada's 28 delegates to vote to nominate Paul anyway in violation of the state's binding Feb. 4 GOP presidential caucus, which Romney won. Romney was supposed to get 20 delegates and Paul eight.
After the Paul backers lost on Tuesday, Terhune and several others abandoned the rest of the convention, skipping out on acceptances speeches from Ryan and Romney.
Terhune said there was no reason for him to hang around.
"We came here to fight," Terhune said. "But we were fighting for Republican principles."
Terhune himself was bound to vote for Paul, although others defied the party caucus rules by crossing over from a promised Romney vote to nominate Paul. They said they were justified because the RNC changed the nominating process in a back room deal and ignored challenges to the vote.
"They walked over us," said Cindy Lake, who was on the rules committee and is chairman of the Clark County Republican Party. "There was really no reason to stay after this."
While Republicans were wrapping up their convention, Terhune and his family were planning their long drive home, including possible stops in New Orleans, the Alamo in Texas, New Mexico and the Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas before heading back to Reno where they live.
Jennifer Terhune, his daughter who was an aide to the delegation, said she was disappointed by the process. At age 27, she's among a class of young Republicans the party is trying to attract and that Paul brought into the fold with his calls for more personal freedom and less U.S. military intervention.
"The Republican Party doesn't understand why it can't get more young people involved," she said. "In order to have young people involved you have to have a voice. But the delegates might as well as not have been here. It makes you wonder why you stay in the party."
Four years ago, she attended the GOP national convention with her family when only four Paul delegates attended and they sat out of sight "in the nosebleed seats," she recalled.
"At least this year, we were on the floor," said Terhune, whose brother Robert was an alternate.
Jim DeGraffenreid, secretary of the Nevada GOP, was giving alternate delegate credentials to sit on the convention floor to fill Nevada's 28 seats on the last night of the convention after a few no-shows and to give everybody a turn.
DeGraffenreid, a Paul supporter, is an example of a Republican who returned to the party because of the Texas congressman's ideas about a limited, constitutional government. He said he had become an independent for a few years because he thought the GOP had strayed from its ideals.
He said the convention drama would fade away and Paul backers like him would vote for Romney.
"After we get back home, we will focus on what we need to do to win," DeGraffenreid said. "I've been behind Romney ever since it became apparent he would be the nominee. But Paul is the one who brought me back to the Republican Party. In the end, he's had an overall positive effect."
As for Paul acolytes who won't back Romney, DeGraffenreid said some "are rabid Paul supporters who joined the party just for him" and may not stay in the GOP or will decide to back a third party candidate.
Paul, who at age 77 has run for president twice, has not yet himself endorsed Romney. He didn't vote for the GOP presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., four years ago either.
Bob Kornahrens of Reno said he would vote for Romney only if Ron Paul endorsed him. Otherwise he said he would vote for the Libertarian presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
"Or I might not vote at all," he said. "Unless Mitt Romney shows me he's not just another big government politician." Rob Tyree is a Nevada delegate who nominated Paul in defiance of the binding rules. He said he may end up backing Romney if the former Massachusetts governor and businessman "will come forward with a message that he's a fiscal conservative capable of leading our country."
"I very well may end up holding my nose and voting for Mitt Romney," Tyree said.
Heidi Smith, the outgoing Republican National Committeewoman, said she told Paul faction leaders, "You can do whatever you want at the convention but it isn't going to change how people vote in Nevada."
"Mitt Romney won the caucus with 50 percent of the vote," Smith said. "The people voted for him, not Ron Paul." Smith's replacement as RNC Committeewoman Diane Orrock is a Paul supporter who now backs Romney as a party leader.
The new Nevada RNC Committeeman James Smack, who replaced List, also is working to elect Romney after supporting Paul for years.
"After all the bickering is done, it's going to be about branding the Republican Party," Smack said. "It's really all about Ryan and Romney. After this convention, that's where you'll get the bounce. Mitt Romney really needs to say, 'Yeah, I have been successful and I will be successful as our next president.'" Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.