As Republicans set their sights on their national convention in August, Ron Paul's forces are rattling the GOP establishment now more than ever.
The latest issue is a three-day festival that Paul supporters are planning at the Florida State Fairgrounds August 24-26, ending just before the convention starts. Thousands of Paul supporters would likely attend the festival, and it would be a natural jumping-off point for the convention in Tampa. What the Paulites do there has become the subject of considerable concern among GOP veterans.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dropped out of the GOP presidential race three weeks ago, says Paul forces could cause disruptions and spoil what GOP front-runner Mitt Romney hopes will be a display of party unity.
Romney edged closer to winning the Republican nomination Tuesday with two primary victories in Arkansas and Kentucky. But there could be problems ahead for Romney's campaign, Gingrich said on conservative commentator Sean Hannity's radio show.
"I think the biggest danger in the short run is that they not think through how they're going to handle the convention in Tampa and how they're going to handle the Ron Paul forces," Gingrich said.
Gingrich added that Romney should be considering "not how to pander to them" but how to treat them with respect and to recognize their "legitimate rights" as delegates.
As Gingrich pointed out, Paul supporters have gathered an unexpected number of delegates at state Republican conventions recently in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri and Nevada. Paul's chances of overtaking Romney are remote, but his delegate strength could enable him to make a difference on the party platform and in setting the tone of the convention.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" at usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and Twitter.