West Virginia — Amid charges by supporters of Mitt Romney that their man was ambushed at the West Virginia state party convention Tuesday by a secret deal between fellow GOP candidates John McCain and Mike Huckabee, one strong West Virginia Romney backer said, in effect, that they should quit whining.
“If they’re whining,” said Berkeley County (W.V.) Republican Chairman Mick Staton, “they’ve never been to a convention.”
Staton, a stalwart conservative and former U.S. House Member from the Mountaineer State, was referring to the second ballot vote in the state convention in which McCain forces swung over to Huckabee and gave him a majority of the state convention — and with it, West Virginia’s thirty delegates to the Republican National Convention. As Staton explained to me while driving back from the Charleston Civic Center where the convention was held, “Our party rules say that the bottom candidate in each of the convention ballots is eliminated and we ballot until a candidate has a majority. The first ballot was 464 for Romney, 375 for Huckabee, 176 for McCain, and 118 for Ron Paul. So Ron Paul was eliminated — and many of his supporters said they would leave before they voted for another candidate.”
Romney backer Staton recalled how, after the party conclave adjourned for lunch following the first ballot, “McCain’s people probably figured out that they were going to be eliminated on the second ballot. So they switched to Huckabee rather than give it to Romney.” Although he pointed out that former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (who also came to Congress with Staton in 1980) and fellow McCain operative Gary Abernathy were at the convention, he doubted whether any nationally-orchestrated maneuver was behind the change — “only a move to another candidate that the delegates would have been forced to eventually make anyway under our ‘last man out rule.”
1207 delegates were elected to the state convention and about 1100 showed up. Romney, Huckabee, and Paul all made cameo appearances in Charleston to address the delegates on the day of the balloting.
The odyssey of Staton himself is not unlike that of many conservative Republicans in the 2008 race. Initially backing California’s Duncan Hunter, another House “Class of ‘80” Member, Staton changed to Fred Thompson and then to Romney when the Tennessean dropped out. He told me he also likes Huckabee and that his business partner, former State GOP Chairman Bill Cobey of North Carolina, is that state’s Huckabee chairman.
What does he think of likely nominee McCain? “I’m not happy with Senator McCain on a number of things, notably McCain-Feingold [campaign finance reform],” replied the former congressman, “But I’ve never voted for a Democrat for President in my life. I’ll be for him.”