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Analysis: RNC Rules Changes Underscore Divisions In GOP

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As the Republican National Convention programming gets under way in earnest today, most of the focus is on the presidential race.  Beneath the surface, however, there was some tension in Tampa, Fla., today. Some conservatives, including some from Virginia, were upset about a proposal to let Republican presidential candidates veto and replace delegates. Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper, has been covering the issue from the floor of the convention center.

What was this disagreement all about and how was it resolved?

"It was about changing the RNC's rules about primaries and delegate selection. One rule change was to not penalize states that move up to March to hold their primaries. The penalty had been that those states would have to award their delegates proportionately. As a result, winning the state would be less of a big deal than a state that rewarded all of their delegates to the winner. So, this has been a concern because its believed that it could lead to a frontloaded primary situation where more and more states are holding their primaries in early March, so conservative activists at the grassroots would have less influence."

"There were some other disagreements as well. One is a rules change that would allow the RNC to change its rules in between conventions. Right now, rules changes are done once every four years. This gives activists around the country more say in the changing rules. By allowing rule changes between conventions, conservative activists worry that Washington insiders are going to have more say in the rules of how future presidential contests are set. Finally, there was a rules change that would have given the party power to disavow or not allow delegates it disfavored. And that's come up this year because there have been some Ron Paul delegates elected to the convention, in particular in Maine, and the party decided not to seat them. That let to some cat calls on the floor a little while ago."

You've reported that Morton Blackwell, Virginia's national committeeman, was a leading opponent of this rule change.  How satisfied will he be with this compromise?

"The compromise that was just made would not give the national committee power to disavow or disqualify delegates, but it would require that delegates elected to the convention vote for the candidates they're pledged to. That's the compromise, and he's not satisfied with it at all. Neither is the Virginia delegation. I just spoke to him on the floor of the convention center here, and he's not at all happy with the compromise. He was not able to get the 20 signatures he needed from the rules commitee to get these proposed changes stopped. He fell one signature short, so these controversial changes are going to go through, althoug they are moderately compromised."

One of the proponents of the change was Ben Ginsberg — a lawyer from D.C.  What is his argument for this policy?'

"He was arguing that it was something that the Romney campaign wanted. He said it would make for a better convention process in the future. The counterargument from conservatives is that these changes wouldn't help Romney's campaign at all, so there's no reason for them to push for it."

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