SPARKS - After four years of grass-roots organizing in Nevada, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul swept almost all of the state's delegates to the national convention Sunday as his supporters swamped Mitt Romney backers at the state Republican convention.
Paul won 22 Nevada delegates to three for Romney, according to vote tallies released Sunday as the convention extended into a second day, finally closing just after noon and after nearly 17 hours of floor action.
Another three official delegates not up for election - the state party chairman and the current national GOP committeeman and committeewoman - are expected to support Romney.
As a result, 22 Paul delegates and six Romney delegates will represent Nevada at the national convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla. This will give the Texas congressman a powerful voice, but no additional votes when Republicans formally nominate who will run against President Barack Obama.
At the national convention, Romney still will be entitled to receive 20 Nevada delegate votes on the first ballot and Paul is entitled to eight because Romney won the Feb. 4 GOP presidential caucuses here. So most of the Paul-aligned delegates must cast a ballot for Romney.
All bets are off though if there's a second ballot - something that's highly unlikely to happen - when delegates could switch their allegiance.
PAUL CAMP SAYS IT WILL FOLLOW RULES
Carl Bunce, the Nevada chairman of the Paul campaign, assured convention-goers Sunday that Paul supporters will follow the rules in Tampa. He said the congressman's goal is to defeat President Barack Obama in November, not to divide the GOP.
"I do not want this party to fall apart," Bunce said in a speech to the convention after delegate results were announced to cries of joy from the Paul crowd that overwhelmed the remaining Romney contingent. "We are building a stronger party. We need to stay united."
The Paul campaign rejected the idea of waging a convention battle Sunday to "un-bind" the Nevada delegates from having to vote for Romney at Tampa, afraid the national party would carry through on a threat to lock out Nevadans if Paul supporters took over.
"Just because you have the power doesn't mean you always have to wield it," Bunce told the convention, saying Paul played by the rules. "Just because you have the sword doesn't mean you have to strike."
The Romney campaign quietly accepted the outcome and doesn't plan to contest the Nevada delegate election to the Republican National Committee, according to several GOP sources.
"We just want to make sure that Gov. Romney gets the votes he deserves out of Nevada," said one campaign official, who suggested Paul backers could help energize Republicans to vote for the eventual GOP nominee against Obama in the fall. "We need as many people coming into the party as we can."
Ahead of the state GOP convention, the RNC threatened not to seat the Nevada delegation if it sent too many Paul supporters to the national meeting. An RNC lawyer said the presidential candidates should select their own delegates.
But the Paul contingent and Nevada GOP didn't agree with the RNC and said the convention had the right to elect delegates before they're allocated by the convention secretary to each candidate - 20 for Romney and eight for Paul.
PAUL SUPPORTERS DOMINATE
Over the course of two days, hundreds of vocal Paul supporters dominated the Nevada convention, where more than 1,600 delegates began meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks.
The Paul folks were more organized, sending text messages to supporters and using signals to direct his delegates on the floor how to vote on every contentious matter.
Both campaigns also sent around delegate lists so their supporters knew whom to vote for during the election.
Romney is expected to win the GOP nomination as he continues to win states and pick up delegates on his way to the 1,144 needed to wrap up the win before Tampa. He's already two-thirds of the way there, while Paul has less than 100 delegates, mostly from caucus states.
But Paul, now Romney's only GOP opponent, has vowed to stay in the race through the national convention. His backers want to elect a majority of delegates in at least five states so he can be nominated from the convention floor, winning a moment in the sun if not more.
Some Paul supporters are holding out hope that there might be a brokered convention where the nomination fight goes beyond the first ballot, opening the way for Paul to win.
"We want to maximize our impact," Bunce said.
PAUL STRONG IN LAS VEGAS
The results of the Nevada delegate election showed that Paul's strength lies in populous Southern Nevada.
Paul won 13 at-large delegates with 730 votes for the Paul slate and 560 votes for the Romney slate, the GOP said.
In Southern Nevada, Paul delegates swept the three congressional districts, winning three delegates each in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts for a total of 12.
Romney only won the 2nd Congressional District, picking up his three delegates from the northern and rural part of the state.
On Saturday, Paul's supporters also successfully ousted Romney backers from the Republican National Committee.
The vote came during a day of clashes between the two camps.
RNC National Committeeman Bob List, a former Nevada governor, lost election to James Smack, vice chairman of the state GOP and a Paul supporter from Fallon. The vote was 932 for Smack and 623 for List.
RNC National Committeewoman Heidi Smith lost to Diana Orrock, one of Paul's backers. They have been taking control of the Clark County GOP for the past year. Carol Del Carlo of Incline Village also was in the running. Orrock got 902 votes to 429 for Del Carlo and 231 for Smith.
Each state has a female and male RNC representative on the committee, which runs the national Republican Party, a key duty in 2012 when the White House is at stake as well as control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The new RNC committeeman and committeewoman won't begin serving their four-year terms until after the national GOP convention in August, when they'll be formally installed.
But having Paul supporters at the RNC could expand the Texas congressman's influence beyond the 2012 campaign as he promotes smaller government and more liberties.
NEVADA GOP CHAIRMAN SATISFIED
Michael McDonald, the new Nevada Republican Party chairman in office just two weeks, said he was satisfied with the convention. He promised not to shut it down as GOP officials did four years ago when Paul supporters took it over and Republican leaders panicked.
McDonald, who will be a Romney delegate, enjoys support from the Paul campaign as well. He said he'll try to harness that political power.
"I believe the merger of the two campaigns is going to make us lethal," McDonald said of the GOP efforts in 2012. "Successful campaigns start in living rooms and by knocking on doors. That's what the Paul people have been doing for four years and that's what we'll do."
The Nevada Democratic Party and the Obama campaign are known for deep organizations that have roots in community groups that have long worked to elect Democrats, including union members and Hispanics.
McDonald said he knows the election battle will be tough.
"It starts today," he said from the empty convention hall.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal .com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.