LEWISTON — Gov. Paul LePage is upping the stakes in an ongoing dispute within the Maine Republican Party over who should attend the party’s national convention in Tampa, Fla., later this month.

LePage on Friday told a Portland radio show host that if Maine’s delegates to the Republican National Convention are not allowed to take their seats and participate, then LePage would boycott the convention.

“I spoke with him on the phone at 9:13 a.m. and he told me if Maine’s delegates were not going to be seated, then he would not be going,” said Ray Richardson, a conservative talk show host with the Portland-based WLOB radio.

“I said, ‘Are you sure about this?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely,” Richardson said Friday afternoon.

At stake is whether 23 delegates from Maine, all supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, should be allowed to take their seats. The Paul supporters staged somewhat of a coup during the Maine GOP Convention in May. They managed to take over the convention and elect a slate of delegates supportive of Paul.

Earlier this month, two prominent Maine Republicans, including a national party committeewoman and the chairman of Mitt Romney’s campaign in Maine, filed a complaint with the national party headquarters, saying the state party convention was not conducted properly. They claimed also that the Paul delegates were elected illegally and should not be allowed to participate in Tampa.

Both LePage and Maine GOP Party Chairman Charlie Webster have previously said the state’s convention was valid and while they do not support Paul, the state’s delegates should be allowed to be seated at the national convention.

Richardson, like LePage, supports Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, but Richardson believes the governor is right on this issue.

“This is a man who stands by principle and this is a principle he is unwilling to give in on,” Richardson said.

He said LePage gave him permission to share his position and Richardson did so early Friday by posting a statement on his Facebook page.

Seating the Paul delegates from Maine in Tampa could decide whether the Texas congressman is given a chance to address the convention formally for 15 minutes. National Republican Party rules require a candidate to receive the support of at least five states for that to happen.

As it stands, Paul has the support of the majority of delegates from Maine, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah. His campaign also is challenging the results of state conventions in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Oregon in hopes of seating delegates from those states at the national convention.

Earlier this week, Webster said he was attempting to broker a compromise, but Richardson said Friday that compromise involved the Paul delegates agreeing that they would be seated only if they voted for Romney at the national convention. The delegates were also asked to allow only Webster or LePage to speak for the Maine GOP in Florida.

Richardson said that compromise was unacceptable to most Republicans, including those who don’t support Paul.

“Listen,” he said. “This is America and you can’t gag people like that, especially when you believe they were fairly elected to their spots in the first place.”

Attempts to confirm with LePage or his office that he was threatening to boycott the national convention were not immediately successful, but a consultant who works with LePage on political issues reiterated a press release issued on LePage’s behalf earlier this month.

“His position was clear,” Brent Littfield, a GOP consultant based in Washington, D.C., wrote in an email. “The governor’s position is that he supports Gov. Romney and that he feels all delegates from Maine should be seated.”

Stavros Mendros, a former Republican lawmaker from Lewiston and one of the Ron Paul delegates, said Friday he was pleased to see LePage upping the ante on the dispute, which is expected to be decided by the Republican National Committee later this month.

Mendros said he learned of Richarson’s post early Friday and was heartened by it.

Mendros was elected vice chairman of the Maine GOP delegation to Tampa during the state convention in May and was elected chairman of the delegation’s credentialing committee. He said the Maine delegation had no intention of disrupting the national convention.

“There’s rumors that we are going to go there and say bad things about Romney,” Mendros said. “Our guys like Paul. I’ve said all along I like Romney — I have no issues with him — he’s not my first choice, but I can live with him.”

More important to the party was that is should stand up for a fair process, Mendros said.

“I just hope the party that I believe in, the Republican Party, is going to do the right thing and is not going to suppress votes,” Mendros said.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.