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Romney wins Md. primary amid light turnout

ANNAPOLIS — Mitt Romney easily won the Maryland Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, getting an added lift from a blue state where voter turnout was light.

Early Maryland returns showed Romney gaining 53 percent of the vote, compared with 27 percent for Santorum, 10 percent for Newt Gingrich and 8 percent for Ron Paul.

With former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich heading Romney’s campaign, the former Massachusetts governor 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.

Ehrlich said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome in Maryland.

“Our polling was really strong, getting stronger,” Ehrlich said in a telephone interview on his way back from a fundraiser in Pennsylvania for a Republican congressional candidate there. “He is a natural fit here, and he’s been here many, many times over the years. He has friends here.”

Romney won at least 28 delegates in Maryland, with nine more yet to be allocated.

Romney also won primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Romney supporters in Maryland cited his experience as a key factor for their support.

“I do think he is a moderate Republican,” said Padmini Nair, after voting for Romney in Chevy Chase. “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.”

Support from Maryland conservatives

Romney’s Maryland victory was only the fourth time in the campaign that he won the support of at least 50 percent who called themselves conservative, according to preliminary results of an exit poll. The only other such races were in Virginia, where Santorum wasn’t on the ballot; Nevada, with a large Mormon population; and Massachusetts, where he was governor. It also was one of his best showings among evangelicals — they made up one-third of the Maryland primary electorate — who had been a strong constituency for Santorum.

Santorum didn’t campaign in Maryland, opting to focus on Wisconsin. Gingrich campaigned Monday in western Maryland and visited Annapolis and the Eastern Shore last week. 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.”

In the Maryland primary, those most concerned about the economy supported Romney over Santorum by nearly 30 percentage points. The economy was the top issue for about half of Maryland voters and an even bigger concern in Wisconsin.

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 also featured an incumbent president running for re-election.

“I think we’ll be lucky to get to 25 percent,” Lamone said.