The Maryland primary hasn’t mattered in the GOP presidential contest since Ronald Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976, but this year could be different.
The horserace to reach the magic number of 1,444 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination means every contest matters, especially for Romney’s rivals.
“Maryland’s 37 delegates count,” American University political science professor Alan Lichtman told FoxNews.com.
Romney currently holds the lead in the delegate count with 558 compared with 273 for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 133 for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 50 for Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Maryland’s delegates are distributed through a combination of a winner-take-all arrangement and a proportional distribution, and only Republicans are allowed to vote in tomorrow’s primary.
All of the presidential candidates save for Santorum have campaigned in the state, which is known for a more centrist political orientation that is less congenial to the ex-Senator’s social conservatism and more affable to Romney’s centrism.
“When you look at the states still to vote, Maryland jumps out as one of the most likely to back Romney. The state GOP has a long tradition of backing relative moderates in the Bush 41 and McCain mold, not to mention Sen. Mac Mathias and a host of like-minded House members. Romney should win Maryland by a mile,” Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics, told Red Alert Politics. “Even a close win would be a surprise. In a better year for the GOP, Maryland is not completely averse to voting Republican in November, as it did for Bush Sr. in 1988 and Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2002. But not in 2012.”
Romney campaigned near Baltimore with former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich early last month and Gingrich has made several stops in the state, include two stops in Frederick today, and Paul made an appearance at the University of Maryland last week.
A Rasmussen Reports poll of 750 likely Republican voters from last Thursday found Romney holding a double-digit lead over Santorum by a 45 percent to 28 percent margin, with Gingrich holding at 12 percent and Paul at 6 percent.
“Santorum has lost any state where less than 50 percent of the electorate is evangelical. Maryland fits that bill,” Catholic University political scientist John White told The Washington Examiner.
But regardless of the outcome in the primary, Romney likely will find winning the state’s electoral votes in November nearly impossible because Democrats hold a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans and it hasn’t voted Republican since 1988 in the general election.
(1st add with original quotes from Dr. Larry Sabato.)