ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland, a state likely to get scant attention from the Republican presidential nominee this fall because of the Democrats' clear edge in voter registration, drew the attention of the four GOP candidates Tuesday as they vie for the state's 37 delegates, but voter turnout appeared to be light.
Candidates made campaign appearances in the state in advance of the primary, which saw minimal turnout and smooth voting throughout the day, although one Prince George's County precinct closed for about 30 minutes because of smoke in a school, according to Maryland elections officials.
Maryland got a rare moment in the Republican spotlight because of a nominating contest that extended into April, though many party leaders have started to coalesce around frontrunner Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor campaigned last month in Arbutus and has the support of two of Maryland's three superdelegates.
Twenty-four delegates will be chosen based on results in each of the state's eight congressional districts. Another 10 will go to the candidate receiving the most votes statewide.
With former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich heading Romney's campaign, Romney had the greatest organized presence in the state. Restore Our Future, a super PAC that backs Romney, spent more than $450,000 on a television ad campaign in Maryland.
Romney hopes to put even greater distance between himself and his opponents as he seeks to convince them he has effectively sealed the GOP nomination. He is counting on victories Tuesday in the Maryland, District of Columbia and Wisconsin primaries.
Padmini Nair (nye'er), who voted at the Chevy Chase library, said Romney was an easy choice.
"I do think he is a moderate Republican. He's also got experience, and his business experience is valuable to help with the economy. He also, I think, is politically savvy, because he has been in government for a number of years, so he's got political experience," she said.
Romney's closest rival, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum from neighboring Pennsylvania, didn't campaign in Maryland, opting to focus on Wisconsin. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned Monday in western Maryland and visited Annapolis and the Eastern Shore last week. Texas Rep. Ron Paul spoke last week at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Steve Swerdlin, a small business owner in Olney, voted for Romney as a good candidate to defeat Barack Obama, rein in spending and lower taxes.
"I'm just working harder just to make a nice living," Swerdlin said, and he sees government getting too large and spending out of control. "I feel very strongly that we're headed in the wrong direction and I just want to bring some sanity back.
Before Tuesday, Romney had 572 delegates; Santorum had 273. Gingrich had 135 delegates, and Paul had 50.
Maryland appeared to be headed toward a low turnout, even for a primary. In 2004, voter turnout was about 27 percent, and in 1996, the turnout was 25 percent, according to Linda Lamone, the state elections administrator, who noted that both of those primaries featured an incumbent president running for re-election.
"I think we'll be lucky to get to 25 percent," Lamone said late Tuesday afternoon.
Rob Miller of Sykesville voted for Santorum for his conservatism and because he believes he is genuine.
"I know he's been on the Washington scene, but Romney's had a big movement and he is still lacking something," the retired astronomer said after casting his vote at South Carroll High School, about 30 miles northwest of Baltimore. "He's trying to put on his old jeans and look like he's one of the common folks."
There are other contests on the Maryland ballot as well, including primaries to decide the candidates in a U.S. Senate race and for U.S. House seats.
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