In the universe of presidential primaries, Maryland may be a victim of mistaken expectations because instead of a postscript to the primary season, it's been thrown into the thick of it.
The mid-Atlantic state also may, for whatever reason, be included with other states along the Atlantic seaboard where Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been strong.
"I think Maryland has been lumped in as a Northeastern state, where Romney's been stronger," Alex X. Mooney, chairman of the state Republican Party, told The Washington Post.
But, he also pointed out, rival ex-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's stomping ground "is right next door in Pennsylvania."
Wisconsin and the District of Columbia also hold primaries Tuesday.
For Romney, Maryland represents the first opportunity to flex his state operation since he didn't to put it to the test in 2008, having dropped out of the presidential nominating contest five days before the state held its primary. Sen. John McCain of Arizona took Maryland in 2008, with 55 percent of the vote, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was second, at 29 percent.
Romney, Mooney said, now has "the organizational advantage carryover from four years ago."
In the delegate contest, Maryland has 37 delegates this year -- 24 awarded based on the winners of each of the state's eight congressional districts, 10 going to the statewide winner and three controlled by state party leaders. Because delegates have been apportioned so far, candidates wanting to avoid a messy convention in August are battling to add every possible delegate.
Romney's team in the state says it's confident he can win most, if not all, of the 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 of the Romney campaign in the state.
Pope added, "There is not an organized Santorum campaign in Maryland."
While Romney has double the delegates that Santorum has, the former Massachusetts governor has yet to break away and is still trying to convince conservatives he speaks for them and is the best option for Republicans to beat President Obama in November.
"The Romney campaign always suspected this would be a drawn-out fight," former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the other co-chairman of Romney's campaign in Maryland, told The Baltimore Sun. "We strongly suspect he's strong here."
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris said he appreciates having Romney visit the state ahead of the primary.
"Maryland is a state that could be up for grabs," Harris told the Sun. "We're not California [with 172 delegates], but we do have a significant number of delegates at a time that each and every delegate counts."
As in other states, Santorum, didn't field a full slate of delegates in Maryland. Jim Crawford, who helped the Santorum campaign line up delegates in Maryland, noted Santorum, despite a lack of initial organization, sometimes performed well in states where he had been dismissed.
"There's a lot of underlying conservative feelings in the state of Maryland, both among Republicans and Democrats," Crawford told the Sun. "In politics, anything can happen."
A straw poll conducted by the Carroll County's Republican Central Committee saw Santorum pick up nearly twice as many votes as the other major Republican candidates, but the party's political leaders also said they think Marylanders will vote otherwise come Tuesday.
While Santorum did well in the straw poll, committee chairman Larry Helminiak told the Carroll County Times he thought Romney would win statewide because he's been the most consistent candidate.
"Other candidates have been popping up and down, but Romney's ground game has been far longer than any other candidate," Helminiak said.
A Rasmussen Reports survey of 750 likely voters in Maryland last week indicated Romney held a 45 percent-to-28 percent lead over Santorum, with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas well behind with 12 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
"People who vote based on moral issues will go with Santorum," Helminiak said. "But people who are looking at the country's needs when it comes to financial direction will go with Romney."
Another observer who doesn't anticipate anything other than a Romney win in Maryland is David Karol, a University of Maryland political scientist. He noted Paul does much better in caucus states, Gingrich has ratcheted back both his campaign and staff and Maryland's demographics tilt toward Romney.
"We've seen evidence from a lot of states already that Santorum and Romney are supported by different sectors of the population," Karol told the Carroll County Times. "Maryland is a wealthy state with a highly educated population and concentrated metro regions and not an especially large number of evangelical Christians. Romney does much better with well-to-do people in metropolitan areas and badly with evangelical Christians."
Despite the sometimes acrimonious campaign so far and divisions about who's backing whom, Helminiak and others agreed on one thing: The goal is to defeat Obama in November.
"The people who worry that the Santorumites, the Gingrichites, the Paulites won't vote for Romney if he's the GOP candidate are wrong," Helminiak said. "The overlaying factor is that they will vote for Romney because of who he will be running against."
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