WASHINGTON Ron Paul knows he cannot win the Republican presidential nomination so he's looking for the next best thing from the national convention in Tampa: to put his small-government stamp on the party platform.
One day after Paul announced he would stop active campaigning, his chief strategist Jesse Benton said on Tuesday said the focus would move to state conventions. By flooding those events with Paul's fervent supporters, the campaign hopes to win in at least five states to raise the number of Paul supporter delegates attending the convention in August.
The Republican National Convention is expected to formally anoint Mitt Romney as the Republican challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
With more supporters physically on the floor in Tampa, the libertarian Texas congressman hopes to have a better bargaining chip to influence the party platform heading into the election.
Paul would like to see Republicans call for more accountability at the Federal Reserve. He also backs monetary policy reforms, wants to prohibit the indefinite detention of detainees and would like the party to push against federal regulation of the Internet.
"We have been in contact with Governor Romney's campaign talking about platform issues," Benton told reporters in a conference call. "They have agreed to be helpful in moving forward the dialogue on several of these things."
Paul, the last main challenger to Romney, realized he was fighting a losing battle for the nomination, Benton said.
"We acknowledge that we're very, very unlikely to be able to block that nomination," Benton said.
So far, Paul has about 101 delegates to the convention while Romney has 970. A candidate needs 1,144 to win the nomination.
Benton said the 76-year-old U.S. representative hoped not only to attract delegates who will vote for him but also get the support of some who have already committed to vote for Romney.
"We believe we will head into Tampa with several hundred bound delegates and hundreds more delegates and alternates that are bound to Gov. Romney on the first ballot but who are supporters of Dr. Paul - supporters of real individual liberty and limited government," said Benton.
"We believe that having hundreds of supporters there sends a very, very strong message," he added.
PAUL'S CONVENTION ROLE?
Political strategists said the Romney campaign was likely concerned that Paul supporters would distract Republicans at the convention just when the party was expected to coalesce around its nominee.
"Governor Romney has a lot of respect for Dr. Paul and the energy his supporters bring to the process," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "We look forward to working together to help Mitt Romney defeat President Obama this fall."
But it seemed unlikely that Paul would actually endorse Romney and so far he has not had any conversations about having a speaking role at the convention, Benton said.
Asked if Paul supporters would actually vote in November for a traditional candidate like Romney, Benton said it was unclear.
"If our people are treated with respect. If their ideas are embraced and treated seriously ... I think the Republican Party has a chance to pick up a substantial amount of their votes," he said.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)