Ron Paul supporters took control of the Maine Republican Convention and elected a majority slate supporting the Texas congressman to the national convention, party officials said Sunday.
The libertarian candidate's backers also came through in Nevada on the weekend, winning him 22 delegates at the state's Republican convention, compared with three for favourite Mitt Romney.
The results, which are unlikely to slow Romney's march to the nomination in Tampa, Fla., in August, give Paul fresh strength as he continues his campaign.
Paul supporters were elected to 21 of the 24 delegate spots from Maine. The 24th seat goes to party chairman Charles Webster, who has remained uncommitted throughout the process. Making the Paul takeover complete was the election of Paul supporters to a majority of the state committee seats.
'They are the most passionate and the most frustrated of any voters heading to the polls.' — Mike Dennehy, McCain campaign veteran
"It's certainly a significant victory," said Jim Azzola of South Portland, Cumberland County co-ordinator for Paul.
Paul, the last challenger to remain in the contest, finished a close second behind Romney in Maine's Republican caucuses in February, but those results were nonbinding. Not everyone had a chance to cast a ballot before the results were announced, and a snowstorm forced the cancellation of some caucuses, including one in a Paul stronghold.
Romney won the February straw poll with 39 per cent of the vote to Paul's 36 per cent. Rick Santorum trailed with 18 per cent and Newt Gingrich got six per cent.
Romney's aides say they do not view Paul as a threat to winning the nomination. But Romney and his team have also been mindful not to do or say anything that might anger Paul's loyal supporters.
"I think he's being very careful because he knows how important the Ron Paul voters are — they obviously represent a very different dynamic," said Mike Dennehy, a former top aide to Senator John McCain's 2008 Republican campaign.
"They are the most passionate and the most frustrated of any voters heading to the polls. And many of them are independents."
The weekend's turn of events — in a state neighbouring one where Romney served as governor — suggest the party has not yet united behind the presumptive nominee, and there are indications the infighting may last all the way to the national convention.
Paul supporters accused the Romney crowd Saturday of using dirty tricks to garner more delegates. "We came here to see democracy in action. We are floored by what happened — absolutely floored to see the cheating," said Elizabeth Shardlow, a Paul activist.
Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter who lost Saturday's bid to chair the convention, called the turn of events at the Maine convention "bizarre." Cragin said the Paul-led delegation may not be recognized at the national convention because of violations of rules of procedure this weekend in Augusta.
"They have so phenomenally screwed this up that they will go to Tampa and not be seated," Cragin said.
Romney supporter John Carson of Kittery acknowledged "this is a split convention."