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SALT LAKE CITY — With Rick Santorum already out of the running and Newt Gingrich expected to end his bid Tuesday for the White House, Mitt Romney has no real competition left for the GOP nomination, right?
Not so fast, say supporters of the other Republican still in the race, Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
"To him, it's about more than just winning," said Daniel Hermansen, Paul's Utah coordinator. "It's getting delegates and having a say at the convention. It's spreading his message."
Paul has insisted he's staying in the race through the Republican Party's national convention in August.
“You don’t quit because you happen to be behind,” he recently told CNBC. “You want to see how you do. And who knows? Maybe somebody will stumble.”
Hermansen, a 20-year-old student at the University of Utah, said more than 700 of his classmates signed a petition urging Paul to speak on campus before Utah's June 26 presidential primary, the last in the nation.
While there's no word yet about whether Paul will make an appearance in Utah, Hermansen said he expects Paul to have a better showing in this year's Utah GOP primary than he did in 2008.
To him, it's about more than just winning. It's getting delegates and having a say at the convention. It's spreading his message.
Four years ago, Paul finished third with just 3 percent of the vote, not far behind the party's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Romney won the Utah Republican primary with a whopping 90 percent.
But University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless doesn't expect Paul to break out of the single digits this time because Utahns will go big again for Romney, the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a Mormon.
Still, Chambless said, Paul can count on the loyalty of his supporters, especially among the many students who like his libertarian anti-war message and fiscal conservatism. Paul has run for president in the past as the Libertarian Party nominee.
"He has a committed cause and a committed following," Chambless said. "The students who told me they're Ron Paul supporters, they are going to vote. They are committed to this process."
However, Chambless said it's not clear whom they'll vote for in the general election in November if Paul isn't on the ballot.
"Mitt Romney is not Ron Paul," he said. Some of Paul's supporters "will come home to the Republican Party but a significant number may vote for the Democrat on the ticket, President Barack Obama.
"Obama, he is younger, and he has emphasized trying to get out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq. That's contrary to Mitt Romney," Chambless said. And, he said, even if they do decide to vote for Romney, they're not likely to get involved in his campaign.
That opened my eyes to a lot of things. I don't see anything changing if Romney gets elected. … I'm looking for some real change. I don't see Romney being much different than Obama.
Joshua Steimle, a 37-year-old Draper entrepreneur and a registered Republican, said he was a Romney supporter in 2008. After Romney dropped out of the race, Steimle said he took a closer look at Paul.
"At first, I thought he was crazy," Steimle said. But then he realized he agreed with Paul on the need to limit government including cutting back military spending and ending the war on drugs.
"That opened my eyes to a lot of things," Steimle said. "I don't see anything changing if Romney gets elected. … I'm looking for some real change. I don't see Romney being much different than Obama."
He said he doesn’t believe Paul staying in the race will hurt Romney's chances of winning in November.
"If Ron Paul pulls any supporters away from Romney, he's pulling the same number away from Obama," said Steimle, who moved to Utah from Southern California in 1998 to attend Brigham Young University.
In the long run, Paul is what's best for the GOP, he said. "If the Republican Party doesn't embrace Ron Paul's message, I think the Republican Party will become irrelevant."