SPARKS - Nevada GOP leaders on Friday dismissed legal advice from the Republican National Committee, which threatened not to seat the state's delegates at the national convention if too many Ron Paul supporters are elected.
The decision was made during a meeting of the Nevada Republican Party's executive committee ahead of today's state GOP convention, said Clark County GOP Chairman Dave Gibbs, who sits on the panel.
"We're going to stand with the rules we agreed to in October and not with the RNC's interpretation," Gibbs said. "Nevada Republicans at this convention are going to elect our delegates. The presidential campaigns aren't going to pick them."
Two GOP officials, one on the 12-member executive board and one who isn't, confirmed the unanimous decision made in a private meeting to ignore the RNC threat against the Nevada delegation as well as the RNC's legal advice.
The decision clears the way for Paul supporters to try to carry out their strategy today to elect as many delegates to the national convention as possible although Mitt Romney won the Feb. 4 presidential caucuses here.
The Romney camp, meanwhile, is working hard to promote its delegates attending the convention to ensure he gets at least half of the 28 Nevada delegates at stake after winning 50 percent of the GOP caucus vote.
Gibbs said the executive committee disagreed with an RNC lawyer who said in a May 2 letter to the party that the presidential campaigns should be allowed to approve the Nevada delegates elected to the national convention to ensure each gets his full allotment. Romney is supposed to get 20 now and Paul eight because Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum dropped out of the race and their delegates were reallocated to Romney and Paul, who finished third on Feb. 4.
Gibbs said that under the Nevada GOP rules adopted in October and sent to the RNC, the delegates to the national convention will be chosen in a two-step process that doesn't include any candidate loyalty test.
First, the 2,000 or so state delegates at today's convention will elect 28 delegates to attend the national convention - no matter which candidate they support. After that, the secretary of the Nevada GOP meeting will bind 20 of those elected delegates to vote for Romney at the national convention in Tampa and eight to vote for Paul.
Some Paul supporters elected as delegates could be required to vote for Romney at the Tampa convention if he goes on to become the GOP nominee as expected, under RNC rules.
Gibbs said the executive committee agreed with the RNC on that point because Nevada held a binding caucus vote.
Paul supporters have been trying to boost his delegate count to a majority in at least five states so he could be nominated from the national convention floor. If Romney has the 1,144 delegates needed to wrap up the nomination by the Aug. 27-30 convention, however, he would overwhelm Paul, and there would be no second ballot when delegates would be free to vote for any candidate.
In the May 2 letter to Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, RNC counsel John R. Phillippe Jr. said the delegates elected at the state convention should match up with their preferred candidates at the national convention.
"If a prospective delegate's name is certified to the RNC but has not been approved by an authorized representative of the candidate he or she professes to support, grounds for a contest may exist," Phillippe wrote, saying the campaigns should be allowed to vet each delegate.
He said his opinion "is purely advisory and not binding on any committee of the Republican National Committee or of the Republican National Convention," but he laid out the possible consequences if Nevada defied the rules.
"I believe it is highly likely that any committee with jurisdiction over the matter would find improper any change to the election, selection, allocation, or binding of delegates, thus jeopardizing the seating of Nevada's entire delegation to the National Convention," he wrote.
Carl Bunce, the Nevada chairman of the Paul campaign, this week also rejected the RNC interference, saying the GOP was trying to change the rules to favor the Romney campaign.
Wandering the convention halls Friday, Bunce said he thinks more than half of the delegates attending the meeting at John Ascuaga's Nugget are loyal to the Texas congressman, who is set to address the meeting.
"I've seen a lot of friendly faces," Bunce said. "It's going to be awesome. We've had momentum since the caucus. We just want to play by the rules and let the process go through and let the votes be your voice."
Romney is sending his son, Josh, to address the convention.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and other top Nevada GOP politicians are not planning to attend. Sandoval's office said he would be at a veterans event today in Las Vegas that he had agreed to months ago.
U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., has Army reserve duty, his office said.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., planned to attend his daughter's soccer game today instead after returning from traveling, according to his office.
Sandoval, Heller and Heck will miss what is expected to be a raucous day of convention action that is expected to last into the evening and possibly longer if Paul supporters and Romney backers go head to head on the floor.
McDonald, the new state GOP chairman elected to the job two weeks ago, promised the convention-goers the meeting would not be like four years ago when party leaders shut it down when Paul supporters tried to take it over.
The party has booked convention rooms for Sunday in case the meeting goes into overtime.
"You need to come early and stay late," McDonald told a Friday meeting held to review parliamentary rules. "I don't care what happened four years ago. Let's be civil."
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.