Often an afterthought in presidential primary campaigns, Maryland will matter this year. But, so far, most of the Republican candidates have not behaved accordingly.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will visit the state Wednesday afternoon, holding a town hall meeting at an American Legion post in Arbutus, southwest of Baltimore. Two more proposed Maryland events fell through because of scheduling conflicts, but Romney is the only candidate among the four with a Maryland stop on his schedule, with the primary two weeks away.
Romney also is the only one to have a significant number of endorsements in the state, even though he has no campaign office or paid staff in Maryland.
“I think Maryland has been lumped in as a Northeastern state, where Romney’s been stronger,” said Alex X. Mooney, chairman of the state Republican Party, although he noted that former senator Rick Santorum “is right next door in Pennsylvania.”
Romney, Mooney added, “had the organizational advantage carry over from four years ago.”
Romney never got the chance to put his Maryland operation to use in 2008, as he dropped out of the contest five days before the state held its Feb. 12 primary. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) ended up winning Maryland, with 55 percent of the vote, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was second, at 29 percent.
In the delegate contest, Maryland offers 37 this year; 24 will be awarded based on the winners of each of the state’s eight congressional districts, 10 will go to the statewide winner and the last three are controlled by state party leaders.
Romney’s team in the state is confident that he can win most or all of those delegates.
“I’d have to say it’s a strong case for Mitt Romney,” said Louis Pope, the Republican National Committeeman for Maryland and co-chairman — along with former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — of the Romney campaign in the state.
No polls of Maryland have been released, but Pope said Romney has excelled in fundraising, in signing up volunteers and in winning several straw polls. “I know most of the chairmen of central committees across the state also reported back that they are for Mitt Romney,” Pope said.
Pope also doesn’t think much of the competition, saying: “There is not an organized Santorum campaign in Maryland.”
Santorum, whose campaign did not respond to requests for comment, makes no mention of Maryland on his Web site. His Tuesday night election party in Gettysburg, Pa., 10 miles north of the Maryland border, is the closest his current public schedule takes him to the state.
The presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) also did not respond to a request for comment about his efforts in Maryland’s GOP primary on April 3.
As for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said “plans are underway to visit the state soon.”
Gingrich has the backing of Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who is co-chairing Gingrich’s Maryland campaign along with Del. Warren E. Miller (R-Howard).
“We knew that with the [delegate] proportionality rules there was a good chance there would be no clear winner by the beginning of April,” Harris said in a recent interview. “We suspected all along that Maryland could be in play.”
Harris said Gingrich has a fighting chance in the state, because “we have a grass-roots network” and because Maryland Republicans aren’t a clear ideological fit with Romney.
“If you look at Maryland, though the state itself is a blue state, I think there are elements of a significant conservative Republican vote,” said Harris, particularly in his Eastern Shore-based district and in Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s territory in the western part of the state.
Gingrich came to Maryland in June, at a low point in his campaign, to address a state Republican dinner. He challenged the GOP not to cede the state to Democrats in the 2012 general election.
Several members of the General Assembly and a handful of state GOP officials, including vice chairwoman Diana Waterman and then-executive director Justin Ready, endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the fall, before his candidacy fizzled out.
Bartlett, who is neutral, said he couldn’t pick a favorite among Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. “I don’t think it leans toward any of those three,” he said.