Montana Republicans wrapped up their state convention in Missoula Saturday with record attendance, plenty of enthusiasm and what the chairman called a diverse but united party.
The only dissenting voice came from David Hart, the Montana coordinator of presidential candidate Ron Paul's campaign, who wasn't happy over some of the tactics used to shut Paul backers out of claiming any delegates to the national convention.
State GOP Chairman Erik Iverson said the convention drew 470 people n 300 more than attended last year's gathering in Helena. The convention's gross proceeds were a record $105,000, more than twice as much as the previous high of $50,000, he said.
When he was elected chairman a year ago, Iverson said his goal was to create a more dynamic, diverse party. He said he believes that has occurred.
That desire for diversity is one reason Paul was invited to address the convention, Iverson said.
"Our diversity in the Montana Republican Party is our strength," Iverson said in an interview. "The Democrats in Montana seem to be much more monolithic. They all move together and follow the orders of their governor."
Iverson said Republicans had "a spirited vote" Friday to elect 22 delegates to the national Republican presidential nominating convention in St. Paul, Minn., in early September.
The convention elected all 22 delegates pledged to back the party's presumptive nominee, John McCain. No delegates were elected committed to Paul, the Texas congressman who ended his presidential race earlier this month.
"Everything was respectful and orderly," Iverson said.
He welcomed the continued participation of Paul's Montana backers. Although some had wondered if Paul supporters would continue to remain active after the Feb. 5 state Republican presidential caucus, "you look around and the Ron Paul people are still here and they're here to stay," Iverson said.
Paul finished second behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the binding Montana caucus, while McCain placed third. Romney dropped out of the race shortly after Montana's caucus.
In the nonbinding June 3 Montana Republican presidential primary, McCain handily defeated Paul.
Iverson said that Paul, in his speech Friday, thanked Montana Republicans for treating his campaign more fairly than just about any state.
Hart, who headed Paul's campaign here, said he feels welcome to the party "in some respects," although the delegate election result "was not the result we wanted or expected."
"But I also felt the process was slanted and skimmed so it was difficult for our people to have a chance to be elected," Hart said in an interview.
He cited the fact that all five people Iverson appointed to the nominating committee were McCain backers, and the fact that when the vote occurred, the McCain slate of candidates was printed on the front of the ballot, while the Paul slate was printed on the back. What's more, those nominating McCain delegates did so from a microphone on one side of the room, while those nominating Paul delegates went to a microphone on the other side of the room.
"The direction was very clear on what the loyal party member was supposed to do," Paul said. "They wanted to make sure their process was very controlled."
Asked if he intended to remain involved in the Montana Republican Party in the future, Hart said, "I'm sure there are a lot of people who wish we'd go away, but that's not going to happen."
It took nearly five hours Friday night to tally the votes for national convention delegates because of a complex weighted voting system.
Elected as McCain delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention were: U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and his wife, Jan Rehberg, Billings; lieutenant governor candidate Steve Daines, Bozeman; former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and his wife, Phyllis Burns, Billings; state Sen. Jerry Black of Shelby; Thelma Baker, Missoula; Mark Baker, Helena; Rep. Jesse O'Hara, Great Falls; Sen. Gary Perry, Manhattan; Rep. Janna Taylor, Dayton;
Rose Ann Penwell, Bozeman; Karen Pfaehler, Bozeman; Kathy Barkus, Kalispell; Susan Barbisan, Bozeman; Susan Brooke, Bozeman; Kathleen Roberts, Missoula; Susan Muralt, Missoula; Linda Vaughey, Helena; Shirley Warehime, Helena; Arla Jeanne Murray, Miles City; and Neal Donaldson, Livingston.
Alternates elected were: Jean Allen of Great Falls; Jack Allen of Great Falls; Glenn Wehe of Kalispell; Sen. Greg Barkus of Kalispell; Cindy Daines of Bozeman; Chuck Denowh of Helena; John Milanovich, Bozeman; Julie O'Hara, Great Falls; Nelson Allen, Livingston; Barbara Barrett, Helena; Lisa Perry, Manhattan;
Col. Sam Roberts, Missoula; Tosha Iverson, Missoula; Lori Hamm, Helena; Joanne Blyton, Joliet; James Brown, Dillon; Tricia Burry, Kalispell; Keith Baer, Missoula; Will Brooke, Bozeman; David Barbisan, Bozeman; Martha Aveson, Bozeman; and David Penwell, Bozeman.