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The Paul crowd thoroughly out-organized the Romney crew in his own backyard. 

Saturday was an embarrassment of epic proportions for Mitt Romney and the Massachusetts Republican Party — an organization that, as I've chronicled in recent months, is essentially an extension of the Romney machine.

In a nutshell, a bunch of diehard followers of presidential candidate Ron Paul won spots intended for Romney loyalists, to represent the state at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa late this summer. In nine district caucuses, Paul supporters won 16 of 27 delegate spots, and 18 of 27 alternates. (These numbers might change slightly after consideration of provisional ballots and potential challenges.)

It won't affect the nomination. By virtue of Romney's easy primary victory, in which he received more than 70 percent of the votes, Romney is guaranteed the pledged support of all Massachusetts delegates on the first convention ballot. And there is little chance that there will be more than one ballot, regardless of the high hopes of some Paul devotees.

But it's certainly humiliating that the Paul crowd so thoroughly out-organized the Romney crew in his own backyard. Organizing supporters is so fundamental to the fall general election, that this fiasco— which took place while top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom was in Washington, DC, schmoozing at the White House Correspondents' Dinner — could raise questions about whether the campaign's eye is on the ball.

The effort should not have come as a surprise, since the same people did the same thing in 2008, with more limited success. Although some of the state's 41 delegates to the RNC are chosen by the state committee, and some at the MassGOP convention this spring, the bulk are elected by any registered Republicans who show up at the district caucuses.

Ron Paul libertarians, though highly motivated, are few in number. To defeat them required only 100 to 150 Romney supporters at each of the nine caucus locations — from an entire congressional district.

The failure to do so has stunned some Massachusetts Republicans. At the least, it is another black eye for new state party chairman Bob Maginn, whose long relationship with Romney goes back to Bain Capital.

But it could become more than a passing embarrassment.

The home-state delegation traditionally gets seated front and center, and national media typically seeks them out for comments about the nominee.

I asked Frank Capone, an elected "Liberty" delegate from District 5, what he will say to media in Tampa who ask his opinion of Romney. "Probably not what I should be saying," he chuckled.

OFF MESSAGE

MassGOP officials are publicly putting a game face on the caucus results — pointing to the higher-than-usual turnout as a positive sign. "It's a pretty fantastic thing to see the enthusiasm," says MassGOP spokesperson Tim Buckley.

But the importance of home-state delegates is a big reason that the Romney campaign took the unusual step of selecting and promoting a complete "slate" of candidates — which the MassGOP promoted on its Web site. There were also robocalls made for the slate candidates.

The Romney campaign wanted to ensure that the delegation would be "on message" in Tampa.

They also wanted to reward those who had loyally helped Romney and his allies over the years, by giving them a VIP junket to the national convention.

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