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the great tampa convention showdown

Rick Santorum Ready for Ron Paul Convention Showdown

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Republican presidential candidates (L-R) U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum talk during a commercial break as they participate in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. The debate is the last one scheduled before voters head to the polls in Michigan and Arizona's primaries on February 28 and Super Tuesday on March 6.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) And to think that just 14 weeks ago they were chumming it up at a CNN primary debate, looking off into the distant setting spotlight. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

GOP candidate and libertarian-at-heart Ron Paul has never been one for the headlines (possibly not by choice), which is why his slow accumulation of delegates through a crafty state convention strategy has unfolded largely beneath the political radar. But Rick Santorum (remember him?) is on the case. Today on ABC News' This Week, Rick Santorum — once a Romney rival but now a loyal surrogate — highlighted the dangerous possibility of a Tampa convention melee:

I’m concerned that Ron Paul and some of his supporters out there are looking for a platform fight. And I want to make sure that we have strong, principled conservatives there who stood with me in our primary fight to go there and counterbalance the effect of the Paul folks.

Looking at just the numbers, Santorum may be jumping the gun just a tad. The latest AP count gives Ron Paul only 136 delegates — the New York Times puts him at 137 — barely half the number candidate Santorum amassed before bowing out of the race. But in an e-mail to supporters (and the Washington Post) on Wednesday, Paul claimed his campaign will send "nearly 200 bound delegates" to the August convention as part of a nearly 500-strong contingent of delegate supporters.

This will certainly fall short of whatever's needed to stave off a Romney nomination, which is now assured, but Paul's forces could still cause serious embarrassment to a Republican Party desperately trying to coalesce around a worryingly moderate and gaffe-prone candidate. If Ron Paul gets his way, the mere threat of disruption may be sufficient to tempt the Romney campaign into a harder stance on immigration or a rollback of international obligations.

This Week's George Stephanopoulos also did his best to tease out just how close Santorum really is to Romney's inner sanctum. When asked if he's been actively courted for Romney's all-important veep short list, Santorum — who topped Daily Intel's latest Sherm-O-Meter ranking — did his humblest best to hide his disappointment: "No one's asked me for anything right now … if he calls me, I'll answer the phone call."

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Photo: Justin Sullivan/2012 Getty Images