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Raucous Iowa Convention May Signal What's To Come

You know things are going badly when the person at the front of the room has to say, "This is not going well." The fireworks at Iowa's Republican State Convention began even before lunchtime Saturday. At one point during the day, the parliamentarian threatened to kick out the next person who tried to speak out of order.

If Saturday's convention is any indication, Mitt Romney may not be in for smooth sailing at this summer's national convention in Florida.

Why the rancor in Iowa? Many longtime party activists say supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul are taking over and that tone continued throughout the day. Paul backers will make up all but a handful of Iowa's 28 delegates going to Tampa.

Of the 25 delegates up for a vote at the convention, 21 support Paul. They are unbound, meaning they can vote for whomever they choose at the national convention.

Iowa's Image

Delegate Bethany Gates of Benton County worried that going with Paul could tarnish the image of the party — and the state's first-in-the-nation caucus status.

"So far, we've already had two different candidates that are declared a winner," she said. "If we go to national with a third candidate ... we are going to look ridiculous."

Party officials had come under fire after they initially reported that the former Massachusetts governor had won the caucus in January, but then named former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the winner after a recount. Paul came in a close third, but his supporters have continued to organize on his behalf.

Saturday's event also included calls for unity from several speakers, among them longtime Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. He urged the crowd to deliver the swing state to Romney.

"Either it's four more years of President Obama, or it's a new day," he said. "And every one of you want it to be a new day."

State Party Chairman A.J. Spiker, who left the Paul campaign to assume his new role earlier this year, also called for unity. But then he failed to mention Romney's name during his speech.

Division: What Is It Good For?

Prominent blogger Craig Robinson, who was undecided during caucus season, says the outcome of the convention doesn't represent what happened at the caucuses. He also says the division isn't helping the Iowa GOP.

"It doesn't seem like we're acting like a majority party," he said. "We're acting like a minority party that's having an identity crisis and struggle that is more common after defeat than victories."

But Jeff Taylor, a Paul supporter who was chosen as a national delegate this weekend, said internal disagreements could be good for the party.

"We'd have a bigger audience for the conventions if we were a little bit more of a throwback to the old days, before it was all so cut-and-dried and ... a slick package," he said.

If Paul supporters have their way, the convention in Tampa may be anything but the slick package Romney and much of the GOP are hoping for.

Copyright 2012 Iowa Public Radio

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.