Maryland Republicans may give Romney a boost

April 2, 2012

By , Washington Post

Republicans in Maryland have been ruled by Democrats for almost two centuries. They have been divided into gerrymandered districts that dilute their ability to elect members to Congress. And their disorganized ranks have left the party’s most extreme members with an outsized voice in state politics.

But on Tuesday, the often overlooked and bulging moderate middle of the Maryland GOPwill be relevant — at least for a day. In the state’s first competitive presidential primary in a generation, polls and interviews suggest an overwhelming number of Republicans will vote for Mitt Romney.

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 still 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.

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