Mitt Romney greets a supporter in Waukesha, Wis. (Kamil Krzaczynski / European…)
Reporting from Washington — Mitt Romney has won the Maryland primary, the Associated Press projected, winning handily in a state where the moderate former governor of Massachusetts never faced a serious challenge from staunch conservative Rick Santorum.
Romney also won the primary in the District of Columbia, NBC has projected. Santorum was not on the ballot there.
Romney’s focus on economic issues played well with Maryland’s Republicans, more of whom tend to be fiscal conservatives and social libertarians than in the South, the region where Santorum has been the strongest. Polls in Maryland consistently showed Romney with a double-digit lead, and Santorum focused much of his effort on Wisconsin, which also held its primary on Tuesday.
Romney had another advantage in Maryland: Its Republican primary was closed, meaning only registered party members could vote. That prevented Democratic voters from crashing the GOP primary to vote for Santorum as a way to make Romney appear weak.
Of Maryland’s 37 delegates to the GOP convention, 24 are awarded by congressional district, 10 go to the primary winner and three are the state’s party officials. Turnout was predicted to be low, based on low numbers of early voters, and with little suspense about who would win.
Tuesday’s primaries, with a total of 95 delegates up for grabs, were expected to boost Romney well past the halfway point in accumulating the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the nomination. The Associated Press reported that Romney was at 572 delegates after Monday, when Republicans in Tennessee finalized results from their March 6 primary and awarded three more delegates to Romney.
Nineteen delegates are at stake in the D.C. primary, 16 of which will go to the winner while three will be unbound state party officials.
Santorum has 272 delegates, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 135 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 51, according to the AP totals.
If Romney secures the Republican nomination as expected, he’ll face an uphill battle to win the state in the general election. President Obama easily defeated John McCain in 2008, and the last Republican to carry Maryland in the general election was President George H.W. Bush in 1988.