But on Tuesday, the often overlooked and bulging moderate middle of theÂ Maryland GOPwill be relevant â€” at least for a day. In the stateâ€™s first competitive presidential primary in a generation, polls and interviews suggest an overwhelming number of Republicans will vote forÂ Mitt Romney.
They wonâ€™t be voting for the Romney theyâ€™ve seen tacking increasingly to the right to secure the partyâ€™s nomination. They say theyâ€™ll be voting for the Romney they see as a fiscal conservative â€” but someone who is also capable of compromise and nuanced positions and could beat President Obama: The post-Etch a SketchÂ Romney they suspect still exists under a hardened coat of party rhetoric.
â€œThere are more of us in this state than in others, I think, that are fiscally conservative and socially libertarian,â€ 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. â€œMany Republicans here are concerned about some of the stands that senator [Rick] Santorum has taken or been advocating forÂ .â€‰.â€‰.focusing more on social issues than economic ones.â€
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 Washingtonâ€™s Maryland suburbs.
They worry first about federal spending and debt, pruning government programs without choking off their livelihoods or the regionâ€™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. EhrÂlich Jr.