By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Ron Paul's delegates are trying to mount a floor fight over new GOP rules designed to limit the ability of insurgent presidential candidates to amass delegates to future Republican conventions.
They are getting help from other delegates, though it is unclear whether they can rally enough support to challenge the rules on the floor of the convention Tuesday.
Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee, has plenty of delegates to win any floor fight. But the dispute could provide an unwanted distraction for party leaders who would rather focus on promoting Romney and defeating President Barack Obama.
"It's so heavily scripted. This is not the forum in they want to air the proverbial dirty laundry," said Juliette Jordal, a Paul delegate from Minnesota.
The new GOP rules would bind delegates to the outcome of presidential primaries and caucuses, allowing candidates to choose which delegates would represent them at future national conventions. Currently, state parties choose national delegates, usually at state and congressional district conventions.
The new rules would also make it more difficult for insurgent candidates to get their names placed in nomination at the convention. This year, candidates need a plurality of delegates from five states to get their name placed in nomination, a threshold Paul did not reach. The new rules would require support from eight states.
The convention's rules committee approved the new rules last week before the start of the convention in Tampa, Fla. The rules were scheduled for a vote by the full convention Monday but many activities were delayed because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
A handful of Paul delegates tried to provide a taste of what's to come after Monday's brief convention session. After the session, a handful of Paul's supporters gathered near the rear of the convention hall and waved signs bearing Paul's name.
They included delegates from Oregon, Nevada and other states where the Texas congressman had support. They said they were upset about the pending rule changes.
"It's going to shut us out of the process," said Oregon delegate Larry Ericksen, a Paul backer compelled by state rules to vote for Romney at the convention. "We deserve a voice in the process."
The Romney campaign treads lightly around Paul while making it clear this is Romney's convention. On Monday, Romney's pick for vice president, Rep. Paul Ryan, downplayed the rift between Paul's supporters and the GOP ticket.
"We see eye to eye on a lot of issues and believe in sound money, We believe in limited government," Ryan told Fox News. "We believe in academic freedom. We believe in the founding principles. We believe that this is a watershed moment for America, whether or not we're going to reclaim the American idea or we're going to become, you know, a cradle-to-the-grave welfare state, which is where I think the president is taking us."
"So I think, in the final analysis, Ron is clearly going to ... he and his supporters should be very comfortable with us," Ryan said. "Ron is a friend of mine. I've known him a long time in Congress."
Romney's convention planner, Russ Schriefer, sidestepped questions about whether efforts by Paul supporters would project a lack of unity.
"In terms of unity, we are a big party. We have people with different opposing viewpoints. I don't think this is a particularly divisive point of view," Schriefer told reporters Monday. "The one thing we know is we're all united in defeating Barack Obama and at the end of the day, I guarantee you on Thursday as we walk out of this convention we will be 100 percent united behind MR and defeating Barack Obama for the good of the country."
Supporters of the new rules say voters expect the delegate count to reflect the outcome of state primaries and caucuses.
They point to states like Maine and Minnesota. Romney narrowly won local caucuses in Maine and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum handily won the presidential caucuses in Minnesota. But Paul's dedicated supporters were able to win most of the delegates in each of those states by taking control of the state conventions.
Ten Paul delegates from Maine were subsequently replaced by a convention panel last week after the panel decided they were picked through a flawed state selection process.
Paul didn't win a single primary but he was able to amass 177 delegates, according to the tally by The Associated Press, largely by organizing supporters at state conventions.
Opponents of the new rule say it would limit the ability of state parties to reward local activists, and Monday's weather delay is giving them time to organize.
"A lot of people who get elected as delegates and alternates to the convention are people who have been paying their dues for years and years," said Stavros Mendros, a Paul delegate from Maine. "I think it's a big mistake for the RNC to make." Associate Press writers Brian Bakst and Thomas Beaumont in Tampa, Fla., and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.