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March 30, 2012 at 6:10 PM

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GOP feud: Santorum and Paul supporters team up to scuttle Romney

Mitt Romney won the straw poll at Washington's precinct caucuses March 3, but the fight over who will claim the state's 43 delegates to the Republican national convention is ongoing.

The latest twist: Rick Santorum's campaign is teaming up with Ron Paul supporters in an effort to deny Romney delegates, apparently at the direction of Santorum himself.

The strategy has alarmed some top GOP officials who fear it will crack party unity and lead to a nasty scene at the state convention in a couple months. It has also angered some grassroots Santorum supporters.

In an email to Santorum supporters Thursday, state volunteer coordinator Graden Neal laid out the plan:

"Last night, the Washington State Rick Santorum leadership had a conference call with a special guest, the Senator himself. We were surprised and honored that Rick Santorum himself came on our call to help give us direction. And the Senator didn't mince words. In order for us to win the nomination in Tampa in August, we must deny Romney delegates to that convention. If the frontrunner, Romney receives 1,144 delegates before the national convention, it is all over for our campaign. That is the reason why the Senator himself directed us to coalition with the Ron Paul delegates to deny Romney any state delegates." [Emphasis added]

Neal confirmed the message in a phone interview, and acknowledged the effort has split Santorum's supporters here. Neal said the alliance is showing a measure of success, but acknowledged some Santorum backers are not happy with the strategy.

"We are a house divided," he said.

The showdown should be evident this weekend when nine counties -- including Snohomish and Clark counties -- hold conventions to elect delegates to the state GOP convention, where the national delegates will be picked in June.

King County Republican Party Chairman Lori Sotelo called it a "weird alliance" given the libertarian views of Paul, which are often at odds with Santorum. Indeed, there has even been speculation nationally that Paul was allying himself with Romney, given several conveniently timed barbs Paul has thrown at Santorum.

State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said he's growing "concerned" about the scheming leading to a disruptive fight at the state convention.

And the Santorum campaign's move -- directed by the national campaign -- has turned off some local supporters who had been working on "unity slates" to fairly apportion delegates among the Santorum, Romney and Gingrich campaigns.

Garry Pagon, a long time Snohomish County Republican activist, sent a letter of resignation to the Santorum campaign Thursday.

Pagon had been the campaign's coordinator for the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, but said in the letter he could not continue in that role.

Pagon wrote that "personal animosities" have developed between some Santorum and Paul supporters, so "many of our people will not be willing to work with the Paul campaign."

"If we revoke commitments that we made," Pagon's letter added, "then we will lose most of our credibility going forward, and other campaigns will not trust any negotiations that we attempt in the future."

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