Regina Garvie, Staff Writer
It was standing room only at the traditionally quiet Grady County Republican Convention on Monday night in Chickasha.
With many of the new faces in the crowd sporting Ron Paul t-shirts and ball caps, it was obvious what caused the increase in attendance.
The Ron Paul supporters came to the meeting with the intent of being named as delegates to the Oklahoma fourth district convention and the state convention, where they hope to help send like-minded delegates to the national GOP convention later this year.
Matt Burke, Grady County coordinator for the Ron Paul campaign, alerted fellow Paul supporters to the date and time of the county convention and stressed the importance of signing up to be a delegate.
Burke and his wife, Michelle, who live in Blanchard, have been in contact with the Ron Paul campaign and county Paul supporters and undecideds. They also run a Facebook page for the candidate, "Grady County, OK for Ron Paul."
Part of the strategy of the national Paul campaign is to not only work towards winning the popular vote, but to also have high numbers of Ron Paul supporters as delegates to the national convention. Ultimately, it is the vote of the delegates, not individual voters, that decides who will be the Republican nominee for president.
In some states, delegates do not have to vote the way of the popular vote at all. Oklahoma is one of several states that requires its delegates to vote the way of the popular vote, but if in the first round of voting, no candidate receives the required amount of delegate votes - 1,144 - then a second vote is held in which all delegates can vote for whomever they personally choose.
With no clear front-runner so far in the GOP race, it is possible that no candidate will receive the 1,144 delegates and the second vote will decide who the nominee is. That's why Ron Paul supporters are working so hard to make sure those delegates are for Paul.
Like many small counties in Oklahoma, Grady County does not hold separate GOP precinct meetings. Instead, those counties hold their precinct meetings during the county conventions.
After voting unanimously to send an open delegation to the district and state conventions, county chair Wade Steelman had moved into new business when, during a conversation on new precinct boundaries, he was asked who the precinct leaders were.
He explained that they didn't have precinct leaders because they had to have precinct meetings to elect people to those positions.
Al Gerhart, state coordinator for the Ron Paul campaign, spoke up, saying that if the meeting was publicized as county and precinct meetings combined, those present could break down into small groups based on precinct and elect their leaders.
Several present complained, saying they didn't even know their precinct number, but Richard Engle, a candidate for Republican National Committeeman, quietly discussed with Steelman what needed to be done, and after that, Steelman announced that the meeting would be breaking down into precinct meetings to select leaders and decide on anything else they wanted to discuss at the county meeting.
Steelman counted off, 1-41, so people in those precincts could raise their hands and find each other. A representative from each precinct announced where they voted, so those who did not know their precinct number could recognize their polling place.
GOP members were present from precincts 1, 2, 11, 25, 27, 28, 32, 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41.
Several precincts only had one representative, who held their own meeting and came out as precinct chair. Many others had two, and they took the chair and vice chair positions. Precincts 28, 32 and 37 are now headed by husband and wife teams, and others have relatives in both positions.
The largest precinct by far represented Monday night was 40, which votes at Tuttle United Methodist Church. Eleven people were there from precinct 40; when they raised their hands the crowd broke out into applause. That group elected James Gottman as their chair, his daughter Krislyn as vice chair and Kristi Hughes as secretary.
After electing their officers, the precincts gathered together in the main room and finished their county business. Michelle Burke volunteered to work on the county GOP website, to help local Republicans keep abreast of events.
After the county meeting was adjourned, county chair Wade Steelman said that he didn't know how long it had been since the Grady County GOP had held precinct meetings and elected leaders, but it had been a very long time.
Several candidates for Republican offices also spoke near the end of the meeting. Brooks Mitchell, a licensed CPA and small business owner, is running for state corporation commissioner, and Ron Magar is running for state senate district 43.
The group also heard from Richard Engle, who was by that point a familiar face, having visited at the individual precinct meetings to help the process along and explain what they needed to do in their meetings. Engle is running for Republican national committeeman and is from Canadian County.
Engle said that the current committeeman isn't running for re-election, and is supporting Engle.
He said that it was an important position to him.
"I desperately want to do this job and it doesn't pay a penny," Engle said. "I have to pay to do it."
Another man, Wayne Watts, spoke up for two candidates who couldn't be at the meeting, Steve Fair, who is running for Republican national committeeman, and Peggy Davenport, who is running for senate district 43.
On to the conventions
After the meeting, the Ron Paul supporters shared out bumper stickers and other materials to help spread the word about their candidate, and members signed up as delegates for the upcoming conventions.
The fourth district convention will be held in Pauls Valley on April 20-21. Grady County is one of 15 counties in the district that will be sending delegates to Pauls Valley, and Grady County can send up to 24 delegates to the convention.
The state convention will be held on May 12 in Norman.
At the district convention, delegates will elect three national delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. All together, Oklahoma's five congressional districts will choose 15 delegates for the national convention.
At the state convention, an additional 25 delegates will be elected to go to the national convention.
Three members of the Republican National Committee are automatically national delegates, bringing the total amount of delegates from Oklahoma to 43.
Those 43 delegates will join delegates from the other U.S. states and territories to cast their votes for Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election.