MISSOULA - U.S. Sen. John McCain won all 22 of the Montana Republican Party delegates elected Friday to the national party's presidential nominating convention in St. Paul, Minn., in early September.
None of the candidates who backed Ron Paul was elected. Paul's top vote-getter finished 23rd, about 1,500 votes behind the 22nd McCain delegate.
It was a contentious election, with allegations of deceptive campaign lists surfacing.
At stake were 22 delegates and 22 alternates to the national convention. Eighty-four people sought these positions. A total of 312 delegates were eligible to vote. Tallying the weighted votes was expected to take several hours.
A five-member nominating committee appointed by state Republican Chairman Erik Iverson recommended a slate of 22 delegates pledged to the party's presumptive presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The list included prominent Republicans like U.S. Rep. Denny and Jan Rehberg and former U.S. Sen. Conrad and Phyllis Burns.
Meanwhile, backers of the other GOP presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, nominated many candidates, instead of just concentrating on four or five delegates.
At one point, McCain backers protested that Paul backers were circulating what was billed as a voting guide purporting to list the McCain slate. In fact, 14 of the 22 names on the fake McCain slate were Paul backers.
Former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, who was presiding over the election, decried the tactic. Hill said he served in Congress with Paul and believed the Texas congressman "would consider this reprehensible."
"Chairman Iverson has gone out of his way to make this a fair convention," Hill said. "It is reprehensible that someone would try and corrupt this process."
His wife, Betti Hill, headed the nominating committee.
Clear divisions were evident between the Republican establishment backing McCain and the mostly new Paul backers.
Nominations of McCain delegates were made from a microphone on one side of the room, while those for Paul delegates were made from the other side to leave no doubt about the candidates' loyalty to which presidential candidate.
Names of the McCain slate for delegates and alternates were printed on the front page of the ballot, while those of the Paul candidates were on the back.
State Sen. Jerry O'Neil, R-Columbia Falls, a Paul backer, protested to no avail and called for listing all the delegates in alphabetical order.
"This puts the second-class candidates on the other side of the ballot," he said.
Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, said he appreciated the combination of the Republicans who had worked on behalf of the party for years and the enthusiasm of the newcomers, a reference to the Paul supporters.
"John McCain is the nominee and I plan to support that delegate slate," Barkus said.
Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby, put in a pitch for the McCain delegation.
"I believe we must unite, we must get behind him in any way we can because this is a very important time in our history," Black said.
But Harry Kenck, a Paul delegate from Missoula, said Montana Republicans profess to have a big tent.
"I will add balance and diversity to the elected delegation," he said.
David Hart, Paul's Montana coordinator, told the crowd that Paul "has cured my apathy.
"A lot of people were concerned whether we would be around after February," Hart said. "We're here."
In other elections Friday, Republicans re-elected Betti Hill of Helena and Errol Galt of Martinsdale as their national committeewoman and committeeman.
In addition, they elected three party electors to cast Montana's three votes in the Electoral College for the party's nominee for president if he carries Montana in the fall. Elected were: Thelma Baker of Missoula, John Brenden of Scobey and Galt.