Ron Paul Tampa Rally Highlights Lingering Rift in GOP

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If the Romney campaign thought a quick Ron Paul video tribute on Tuesday night would assuage the legions of die-hard libertarians and Ron Paul supporters, many incensed at the recent RNC decision not to seat various Paul convention delegates, they were sorely mistaken. Today, 10,000 Ron Paul fans crammed into the University of South Florida's Sun Dome in Tampa to protest the GOP nomination headed Mitt Romney's way. Speaking to the impassioned (and creatively bedecked) crowds, Paul told his grassroots troops to keep fighting for "liberty" and that "we will become the tent eventually."

But not in 2012, at least not yet, thanks to strategic maneuvering by the RNC to strip Paul of several delegates while proposing a new rule to end the rather inane practice of holding nonbinding state primaries followed by delegate-awarding state conventions. (Despite winning zero GOP primaries or caucuses, by packing state conventions from Maine to Nevada Paul ended up with 177 delegates, according to the latest AP count, ahead of even Newt Gingrich.)

One of the most talked-about speakers at today's rally, 21-year-old math major and Maine Republican National Committeewoman Ashley Ryan, made a point of calling out the GOP for its "devastating" decision to not seat (among others) the Maine delegation. She also criticized Rules Committee chairman and top Romney surrogate John Sununu for being "very sarcastic" and having a "very demeaning sense of humor."

Such shows of party disunity are exactly what the Romney campaign is desperate to avoid at this week's convention, which it hopes will provide some semblance of a pro-Romney-Ryan groundswell. Today Paul told the New York Times that he was offered a speaking slot at the convention, but he declined, as he would have been required to have his remarks vetted by the campaign and throw his support behind Romney. “It wouldn’t be my speech,” Paul said. “That would undo everything I’ve done in the last 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president.”

Instead, convention officials hope to placate Paul's supporters by featuring a video tribute to the candidate and a speech by son Rand Paul (at 7 p.m. on Wednesday). They're probably hoping that unlike Politico, Paul delegates from Nevada, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, and Oklahoma won't notice that they've been seated on the outer edges of the convention floor.