RENO — Nevada Republicans gather here today in what party officials hope will be a celebration of unity behind their presumptive presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
But with another candidate who refuses to leave the race crashing the party, unity might be far from the mood at today’s state Republican convention.
Although he cannot win the nomination, Texas Rep. Ron Paul is still a candidate. Paul has an avid following in Nevada, where he drew more support than McCain did in January’s Republican presidential caucuses, placing second. He has refused to endorse McCain.
Paul is scheduled to speak today, as is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the caucuses in a landslide but now is campaigning for McCain, who came in third in the caucuses.
And Paul followers are expected to be out in force. Many worked to get elected as delegates to the state convention at their county conventions in February and March. Paul supporters held a rally in Reno on Friday night at which he was scheduled to appear.
A Nevada spokeswoman for Paul’s campaign, Jennifer Terhune, said the intention was not to crash the party.
“Dr. Paul’s purpose is not to be a troublemaker,” she said. “Dr. Paul has always stood on principles throughout his career, conservative values that he believes in. He’s going to stand on those principles. He’s not there to divide the party — he’s a Republican. His position is to bring the Republican Party back to its conservative roots.”
Paul, a physician who two decades ago ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, has gained attention for his vocal opposition to the Iraq war and to foreign involvement generally.
Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Zac Moyle said Paul was invited to speak as a welcoming gesture to his followers. He said he hoped supporters of all the party’s presidential candidates would be brought together at today’s convention.
“In the end, the nominee is not going to be Ron Paul. It’s going to be John McCain,” Moyle said. “We sincerely hope and believe that a lot of these people, maybe not all of them, stick around to be a part of that.”
McCain declined the party’s invitation and is campaigning in the eastern United States this weekend.
A spokesman for the campaign, Jeff Sadosky, said McCain was gratified that Romney, formerly his bitter rival, would speak on his behalf. Romney, the only candidate to mount a major bid for Nevada, took 51 percent of the vote on Jan. 19.
“Governor Romney is very well-known to the people of Nevada, and John McCain is honored by Governor Romney’s support,” Sadosky said. “Nevada Republicans will hear Governor Romney talk about the importance of the ’08 election and John McCain’s fight against runaway government spending and high gas prices.”
Also scheduled to speak at today’s convention are Gov. Jim Gibbons and Rep. Dean Heller.
Rep. Jon Porter could not attend because of his daughter’s wedding. Sen. John Ensign was scheduled to speak but canceled.
A spokesman said Ensign had a prior commitment to speak at a charitable event in Las Vegas.
Today’s convention will elect Nevada’s delegates to the Republican National Convention, scheduled to be held in St. Paul, Minn., in September. Other party business, such as debating the platform, also will be conducted.
The party expects this year’s convention to set an attendance record, with more than 1,000 people, compared with about 200 for the 2006 convention in Mesquite.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.