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Romney Struggles To Lock Down Rowdy Delegates

The campaign grapples with demanding state parties and hostile libertarians. A threat to the New York State chairman.

Posted on July 11, 2012, at 12:42 p.m. ET

Romney in New York earlier this year.
John Moore / Getty Images

Romney in New York earlier this year.

A recent tussle between the Romney campaign and the New York State Republican Party chairman is the latest power struggle over delegates in the Romney campaign’s effort to stage a picture-perfect Republican National Convention.

Representatives of the Romney campaign threatened to prevent New York State party chairman Ed Cox from taking the stage at the national convention in Tampa unless he installed the delegates they'd chosen, sources familiar with the encounter said.

The disagreement comes after months of incidents at state conventions, most recently in Massachusetts, where Ron Paul delegates were required to sign affidavits saying they would vote for Romney. In a host of other states, pro-Romney Republicans have struggled to maintain control of party platforms and delegate slates in the face of insurgent libertarians.

At stake is control of the convention, which the campaign hopes will be an error-free infomercial on Romney’s personal and presidential merits. But conventions are also gatherings of diverse and garrulous local political operatives, each eager for a day in the sun, and the intense focus on the events creates a constant risk of derailment.

In New York, the incident didn’t involve Paul supporters, but a battle of wills between the Romney campaign and the state party chairman over the selection of delegates from the state.

"The Romney people gave Ed Cox their list of people they wanted to have be delegates," said one Republican operative familiar with what happened. "Cox was like I’m not doing that, I’m doing my people."

"The Romney people were pissed at him," the operative said, adding that the Romney representatives had plans to "replace Ed Cox as the person with the authority" to introduce the New York delegation at the national convention.

The incident follows the Massachusetts convention, where the Romney campaign had Ron Paul-supporting delegates sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury promising to vote for Romney at the national convention.

Paul supporters say the establishment Republicans grew nervous after the libertarian “liberty slate” swept the caucuses in April.

"They definitely didn’t pressure us to do anything till after they found out the liberty slate was winning," said Victor Navarro, a Paul supporter active in the state party who attended the convention. "That's when the affidavits came out."

"Around 10 at least didn’t sign it," Navarro said. "Some of them tried to negotiate and the chairman didn't even want to negotiate with these guys."

"They were angy that Kerry Healey didn’t become a delegate, or Charlie Baker," Navarro said, naming prominent Massachusetts Republicans. "We had young people on the liberty slate, minorities – it was very sad to see something like that."

Seventeen delegates had their delegate credentials taken away because they didn’t sign the affidavits.

"Under the Massachusetts GOP Rules, Governor Romney's campaign, through its representative on the Allocation Committee, has the right not to certify individuals for 'just cause' as national delegates or alternate delegates," said Massachusetts GOP Allocation Committee Chairman Ed McGrath in a statement. "Governor Romney's campaign, through its representative on the Allocation Committee, made the decision not to certify certain delegates and alternate delegates who were unwilling to sign and return on time the affidavit sent out by the Allocation Committee affirming that they would cast their vote for Governor Romney at the National Convention in Tampa."

Other Paul-related tumult happened at a number of other state conventions, including in Louisiana, where the Paul campaign claimed that its supporters were assaulted, and in Iowa, where Paul supporters grabbed 23 of the 28 delegate spots after “a two-day tug-of-war marked by bouts of angry shouting,” according to the Des Moines Register.

In contrast, what happened in New York was under the radar, a negotiation that never came to light in dramatic fashion at the convention itself (and was later resolved; Cox is still chairman of the delegation.)

Reached for comment, New York Republican Party spokeswoman Becky Miller didn't directly address the operative's account, saying "The State Chairman is in constant communication with the leadership of the campaign and the candidate himself. Furthermore, the staff at State Committee is working closely with their counterparts in the Romney campaign."

“We are all working hard to make Mitt Romney the next President of the United States,” said the Romney campaign's New York State political director, Rob Cole.