Mitt Romney may have to fight for Wisconsin on Tuesday, but contests the same day in Maryland and Washington D.C. promise to be blissfully uneventful for the perpetually embattled Republican frontrunner.
Other than his home state of Massachusetts, it’s hard to think of two places more receptive to his business-centric, pick-me-I’m-electable message in a GOP primary. Romney is expected to coast to victory in both races on the strength of his money and organization, and his appeal to D.C. and Maryland Republicans.
“There won’t be any surprises,” said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Not a single thing.”
All four GOP presidential candidates are ostensibly making a play for Maryland, where 24 of the state’s 37 delegates are up for grabs in the primary and will be allotted by congressional district. The former Massachusetts governor, onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas have all made brief stops in the Old Line State.
“The Republican electorate in Maryland is a little more moderate than in other states below the Mason-Dixon line,” Norris said. “The conservative Republicans are not quite as conservative as those elsewhere.”
According to the 2010 census, Maryland is the nation’s wealthiest state, boasting a median household income of nearly $70,000. In the state’s GOP primary in 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain trounced the more conservative Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, 55 percent to 29 percent.
Romney has tended to do better in states where religious conservatives are not a dominant presence in GOP politics. In 2008, just 34 percent of Maryland Republican primary voters described themselves as evangelical or born-again, according to CNN exit polls. Romney also has done well in states with a large percentage of well-educated voters; four years ago, 58 percent of Maryland's primary voters had college degrees.
Maryland has become one of the most Democratic states in presidential elections; it was John Kerry's fifth-best in 2004 and Barack Obama's sixth-best in 2008. Republicans are strongest along the Eastern Shore -- where Andy Harris knocked off incumbent 1st District Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in 2010 -- and in the largely rural western part of the state, which was Union country during the Civil War and has been predominantly Republican ever since.
Washington D.C. is the seat of the nation’s political establishment, and thus the nemesis in much of the Republicans’ primary rhetoric this cycle. Romney’s chief rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, didn’t even make it onto the ballot, which could be viewed as no big loss for him in a winner-take-all contest where he had little chance of scoring the District’s 16 delegates.
Besides, D.C. Republicans are few and far in between, numbering 30,000 out of 458,000 registered voters in the city. But the ones that do exist tend to be business titans, lobbyists and other political professionals who are major contributors to the Romney money machine.
“We often call ourselves the only urban Republican Party because we are and so we’re typical of a larger city,” said Bob Kale, the chairman of the District of Columbia Republican Committee who has endorsed Romney. “The sort of profile for the D.C. Republican is someone who’s conservative on economics and can be socially conservative on the right-to-life issue, but tends to be more socially moderate.”
The snooze fest will be of little interest to even the most tuned-in political observers, who will be far more interested in the night’s marquee contest in Wisconsin. Santorum has focused exclusively on campaigning in the Badger State, whose blue-collar voters give him a shot at victory.
But as has often been the case in the drawn-out Republican primary season, Romney’s dominance in low-profile contests is crucial to his delegate strategy.
Winning Maryland and Washington D.C. all but guarantees he will increase his already large delegate lead. Romney has 568 delegates to date, according to the Associated Press’ count, compared to 273 for his closest rival, Santorum. Romney earlier padded his advantage by claiming victory in off-radar primaries in American Samoa and Guam, triumphs that softened the blow of defeats in larger states.
“Romney’s waging a war of attrition against Santorum and Gingrich,” Norris said. “Every time he wins a delegate, every time he wins a state, (it) goes into the plus column to eventually get to the 1,144 that he’s got to have.”
Republicans in both of the typically deep-blue areas nonetheless are happy to get whatever attention they can get — a rarity when their primaries typically fall late on the calendar.
Maryland GOP Executive Director David Ferguson points to overflow crowds at the candidates’ campaign events. “People in Maryland are happy to have a voice and that people are here listening,” he said. “The campaigns and the candidates are really taking ahold of that energy and channeling it.”