TAMPA -- Pursuing a goal that has eluded both major parties for a generation, Republican officials moved on the eve of their convention to assert more control over individual states in the traditionally unruly nominating process.
Should Mitt Romney be elected in November, some of the rule changes debated Friday also could serve as a bulwark against intraparty challengers in the 2016 election.
One of the proposed changes, which is subject to ratification by the full convention next week, would prod states to more closely align their delegate selection procedures with the results of voting in primaries and caucuses. The delegates also moved to regain control over a nominating calendar that has been repeatedly hijacked by states -- such as their Florida hosts -- that have sought greater prominence by moving their contests ahead of other states.
In this year's Iowa caucuses, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum barely edged Mr. Romney in the votes of caucus participants.
But on the floor next week, supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished third there, will control the lion's share of the state's delegation. That is because the closely watched caucus results do not control the selection of delegates in a multistage process later in the year.
Similar results occurred in states such as Nevada and Minnesota, where Mr. Paul's dedicated supporters outmaneuvered the party establishments in postelection procedures to gain an outsized share of their delegates.
After sometimes heated debate, the rules panel approved an amendment to prevent such delegate results at odds with the candidates' vote totals.
The change will not affect Pennsylvania, however. Rob Gleason -- the state chairman, who is also a member of the rules committee -- said that because the state's delegates are elected independently by congressional district and are not pledged to any candidate, the change will not affect the state.
The panel also approved changes that raise the bar for making presidential nominations from the convention floor.
It would demand that a candidate control at least eight state delegations, rather than the current five, to be eligible to have his or her name placed in nomination. Both of those changes were vociferously opposed by supporters of Mr. Paul because they would make the nominating process more difficult for insurgents such as the Texas libertarian.
But those rebuffs were balanced by other gestures of reconciliation with the Paul cadres from the Romney-controlled convention organizers. This week, the platform committee approved a measure calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve System, a move long sought by Mr. Paul.
Russ Schriefer, Mr. Romney's chief convention organizer, told reporters Friday that Mr. Paul's candidacy would be acknowledged in a tribute on the convention floor next week.
"Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, while they certainly disagree on many issues, they always have had a lot of mutual respect between the two of them," Mr. Schriefer said.
The Paul message also will be heard Monday; Mr. Paul's son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has been tapped to be one of the convention's first speakers.
The competition from which they emerged started officially in Iowa in the first week of January, roughly a month ahead of its originally scheduled balloting. For the second election cycle in a row, the state's caucuses, along with New Hampshire's primary, took place early in response to Florida's decision to ignore RNC rules designed to keep states other than the traditional early quartet -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina -- from voting before March.
Florida lost half of its delegates as a result of the RNC rules violation, but the state's Republicans saw that as an acceptable tradeoff for the national prominence and millions in spending that came with its crucial early primary.
In response, the rules panel approved a more draconian penalty for future calendar jumpers. They accepted a proposal from Ohio chairman Bob Bennett to limit future rogue states to 12 delegates, a number calculated to be particularly painful to larger states such as Florida.
But recent history suggests that whether that will be enough to deter calendar jockeying is an open question.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O'Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette.
Contact James O'Toole at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1562.