It’s a scene from a presumptive nominee’s nightmare: His home-state delegation rises to vote at the party’s national convention - expected to push the candidate over the official nominating threshold - and its members abstain, delaying the coronation in an embarrassing act of rebellion.
The unthinkable scenario became thinkable last month when 18 of the 27 Massachusetts delegates Mitt Romney won on Super Tuesday were defeated by Ron Paul supporters in regional caucuses.
Romney’s March victory at the polls means the delegates cannot vote for Paul at the Republican National Convention, unless Romney fails to accumulate 1,144 delegate votes nationwide, prompting a second round of free-for-all balloting. But they could, in theory, not vote at all and deny Romney the unanimous backing of the state he governed from 2003 to 2007.
Bradford P. Wyatt, a Worcester businessman who helped lead the pro-Paul movement, has promised the bad dream will not become a reality for Romney.
“We like Ron Paul a lot, but Mitt Romney is our nominee,’’ Wyatt said. “We’re not going to abstain. I’ve had conversations with most of the delegates, and I’d say we’re of the same mind that it would be a horrible thing to show disunity at the convention.’’
In Maine, however, Romney did lose delegate votes he appeared to have in hand after a similar insurrection by Paul supporters. Romney won the state with 39 percent of the vote on Feb. 11, but the contest was a so-called beauty contest, meaning the results were nonbinding and delegates chosen at the state convention are free to vote for any candidate at the national convention in Tampa this August.
Last Sunday, supporters of Paul, a libertarian, seized 21 of Maine’s 24 delegate slots.
In apparent anticipation of the events in Maine, Romney dispatched his top lawyer to the state convention. Benjamin Ginsberg, who represented George W. Bush in the election dispute of 2000, monitored the proceedings, which Romney backers assert were illegal.
Charles Cragin, a Romney supporter, alleged afterward that some municipal delegations received too many ballots in Maine and suggested some people who voted were not accredited to do so. The Romney campaign did not respond to a question about whether it plans to appeal the Maine result to the Republican National Committee.
It is unlikely that Paul will be able to halt Romney’s march to the GOP nomination. The last of Romney’s Republican opponents has only 104 delegates to Romney’s 966, according to the AP.
But Wyatt said he believes Paul has other goals. According to Wyatt, Paul wants to deliver a prime-time speech in Tampa and is adamant that the Republican platform call for barring acts of war without congressional approval and auditing the Federal Reserve Bank.
The Romney campaign asserted that Paul will not strong-arm the man who has been the GOP front-runner for months.
“Governor Romney has a lot of respect for Dr. Paul and the energy his supporters bring to the process,’’ Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “We look forward to working together to help Mitt Romney defeat President Obama this fall. As for individual state conventions, make no mistake that the Tampa convention will nominate Mitt Romney, and it will be his convention.’’
Still, state convention victories do provide some leverage for Paul. While the Massachusetts delegation has indicated it will not show up Romney by abstaining at the national convention, delegates in Nevada, another state where Paul supporters won last weekend, have offered no such assurance.
A Nevada Republican Party official who spoke to the Globe on condition of anonymity said he expects the 20 delegates assigned to Romney will vote for him, even if they favor Paul. But he added that the delegates have not met to decide their course of action and said abstention “is a concern.’’
Paul told CNN Wednesday that he is not out to disrupt the convention, but is working “to promote something that is very, very important - that is a change in the direction for the Republican Party.’’
The Democratic National Committee reveled in the GOP unrest.
“Romney’s setbacks in Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are an embarrassment not only for Romney, but the Republican Party as a whole,’’ DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell said. “After grinding down his opponents with a barrage of special-interest-funded negative ads, it’s no surprise that his last serious challenger [Rick Santorum] tepidly embraced Romney, while party loyalists are already showing clear signs of buyer’s remorse.’’
At the very least, Paul’s Massachusetts mutiny denied delegate slots to some of Romney’s loyal supporters. Among the losers on April 28 were Kerry Healey, Romney’s former lieutenant governor, and state Representative Paul K. Frost, of Auburn, who in 2002 was the first Massachusetts Republican to publicly call for Romney to run for governor.
In a letter to Wyatt obtained by the Globe, Frost wrote that he was disappointed by the outcome of the caucuses but said he would not join a challenge, “even though I really do wish to go as a delegate for Romney.’’Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.