The people who went to the polls in these jurisdictions included a smaller fraction of evangelical voters than in previous primary states. Compared with the deep-red Southern states that rejected Romney, Tuesday’s voters also had a wider range of political beliefs: In Wisconsin, four out of 10 voters in the Republican primary weren’t even Republicans.
These voters didn’t want to send a message. They wanted a man for a job: beating President Obama in November.
And many said Romney’s temperament and résumé make him the best-qualified applicant.
“He’s got qualifications. He’s got money, which helps. He’s got business experience, which is what this country needs,” said James Jacobsen, 79, of Bethesda. Jacobsen had first considered former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) but decided that he couldn’t win in November.
Like many Romney supporters, he seemed to feel less passionately about the former Massachusetts governor than about the man he wanted Romney to beat.
“I don’t want Obama,” Jacobsen said emphatically.
In the states that were the day’s big prizes — Maryland and Wisconsin — fewer than four in 10 voters called themselves “born again,” below the year’s average of 51 percent. About three in 10 identified themselves as “very conservative,” far less than the share in Southern states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, which Romney lost.
And Maryland, especially, teemed with a kind of voter that has been friendly to Romney all year: people making more than $100,000 per year. They made up nearly half of all GOP voters in the Free State.
Among this crowd, Romney seemed to win on the strength of his résumé: He grabbed a huge share of the voters who said their biggest concern was a candidate with “the right experience” or one who could defeat Obama.
In Wisconsin, retired firefighter Jim Zeirke, 58, said he had debated between Romney and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.). But he was won over by the endorsement of a conservative icon and home-state politician, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
“I’m voting for him because of his executive experience. The current president, he’s never run anything before,” Zeirke said. “You look at Mitt, he ran businesses, he ran the Olympics, he can get in there and be an executive and clean up the mess there.”
Even before the polls closed, Romney sought to frame Tuesday’s contests as a chance to speed up the inevitable: his nomination. He said his rivals — now far behind him in the race for 1,144 GOP delegates — were only making it harder for him to beat Obama in November.
“I want to have our nominee start raising money, start organizing a national campaign, and focus on President Obama and his agenda,” Romney said Tuesday afternoon on conservative talk-radio host Sean Hannity’s program. “I think we’ve had, as of tonight, we will have had almost 35 or more state or territorial contests for the nomination. Maybe it’s time to get going.”