Explainer: What the Ron Paul Campaign Needs to Stay Alive

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There's still a reason to talk about Ron Paul, and it has to do with whether or not he'll be allowed to talk at the Republican National Convention next month.

Having been mostly absent from the headlines since Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich bowed out of the presidential race—all but clearing the way for Mitt Romney—Paul and his enthusiastic supporters have made a continued effort to secure a presence at August's nominating convention in Tampa. (Paulites have long talked about the possibility of a brokered convention.)

He’s kept in touch with supporters and planned an independent rally in Tampa scheduled for August 26th, the day before the convention starts. But it turns out there’s a slim chance Paul could still win a 15-minute speaking slot at the big dance. He just needs to win a plurality of delegates in five states.

Yes, primary season, much like Michael Myers in the Halloween movies, or certain terrible relationships, just refuses to die. We haven’t heard anything about state nominating contests in quite some time, since all the “important” ones are months behind us (the last was Utah’s primary on June 26th, where Mitt Romney won with 93 percent of the vote). But the process is still ongoing.

Since our attention has turned to other important things like the Supreme Court’s health care ruling and something called dressage, those states that have had primaries and caucuses have moved on to state conventions, where GOP delegates to the national convention in August decide who they’ll vote for to be the party’s nominee.

This is something of a formality at this point: many delegates are bound to vote with the will of the state’s electorate, so all 40 of Utah’s delegates, for example, have to vote for Romney at the convention; plus, we all know it’s going to be Romney anyway.

But delegates aren’t bound in Iowa, Minnesota, or Maine—and it turns out that Ron Paul, not Mitt Romney, has secured a plurality of delegates in each of those three states who pledge they’ll vote for him at the convention in Tampa.

Republican Party rules hold that any candidate receiving a plurality of delegates in at least five states will get their name on the ballot at the national convention and get a speaking slot. After over a year of campaigning, Ron Paul is two states away from getting his fifteen minutes.

It comes down to Nebraska and Louisiana. Nebraska is holding its state GOP convention on Saturday, and it’s the absolute last caucus/primary/convention on the calendar. Louisiana’s, held back in June, descended into chaos when Paul supporters, who appeared to have a majority, were almost denied seats at the national convention by state party leaders. Now there are two separate delegations from the state, and it’s not yet clear how the RNC will handle that at the convention.

While it’s a nice thought, victory in Nebraska sounds like a long shot. The confusion in Louisiana, meanwhile, is not exactly unique—Paul supporters from Massachusetts have been blocked from attending the convention, even after promising they would vote for Mitt Romney. Essentially, the Romney campaign and the Republican Party were suspicious that these Paul delegates would keep their word and vote for Mitt.

What a fittingly bizarre end to a bizarre nominating process. The standard-bearer of strict constitutionalism and states’ rights; the last campaigning opponent against Mitt Romney; the septuagenarian who was the only Republican candidate to attract significant support from young people—this is the guy who has to keep his fingers crossed for a state convention in July just to get to speak at the GOP’s national convention. And based on events in Massachusetts and Louisiana, there appears to be a concerted effort to keep that from happening.

We’ll see after this weekend. And if all else fails, Ron Paul will still have a rally of his own in Tampa.