They won’t be voting for the Romney they’ve seen tacking increasingly to the right to secure the party’s nomination. They say they’ll be voting for the Romney they see as a fiscal conservative — but someone who is also capable of compromise and nuanced positions and could beat President Obama: the post-Etch a Sketch Romney they suspect exists under a hardened coat of party rhetoric.
“There are more of us in this state than in others, I think, that are fiscally conservative and socially libertarian,” said state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman. The Howard County Republican, who backs Romney, was forced to step down as Senate minority leader after he introduced a bill last year allowing civil unions for Maryland gay couples. “Many Republicans here are concerned about some of the stands that senator [Rick] Santorum has taken or been advocating for . . . focusing more on social issues than economic ones.”
Social issues are not the central worry of the businesspeople, military veterans, contractors and like-minded government workers who make up the majority of Republicans in Washington’s Maryland suburbs.
They worry first about federal spending and debt, pruning government programs without choking off their livelihoods or the region’s economy. Many say they also are looking for a conservative who could break the gridlock in Washington.
For that, Romney holds another appeal. Having been elected to the top job in Massachusetts, a state only a shade bluer than their own, Romney is a lot like the guy Maryland Republicans were last able to elect to statewide office, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
“Obviously, we both represented blue states, we’re both acclimated to hostile legislatures,” said Ehrlich, Romney’s state campaign chairman. “Over the years, we’ve had several of those talks; we’ve traded war stories.”
Romney is leading Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, by 17 percentage points, according to one recent poll. Ehrlich and other Romney supporters think the final tally for the state’s 37 convention delegates could be even more lopsided.
They say they’ve seen camps within Maryland’s Republican Party — moderates, traditional and social conservatives, and those with libertarian leanings — gelling in support of Romney.
Scores of tea party activists were among more than 700 people who turned out late last month for a weekday town hall with Romney.
“For a Wednesday afternoon, without much warning, that turnout said a lot,” said Nick Loffer, grass-roots director of Americans for Prosperity Maryland.