Maryland Republicans pushed Mitt Romney closer to the GOP presidential nomination Tuesday, giving the former Massachusetts governor a double-digit margin of victory on a day when he also won in Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
With the sweep, Romney now has more than half of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination, and remains on pace to pick up the rest before the primaries end in June.
"Thank you, Wisconsin!" he told supporters in that state. "And Maryland! And Washington, D.C.!"
He said that President Barack Obama has spent the last few years "surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers" and is out of touch with America, according to excerpts of a speech provided by his campaign.
Framing his argument for November, Romney said that more Americans have lost their jobs under Obama than under any other president since the Depression, a record number of Americans are living in poverty and the national debt is at a record high.
Obama supporters say the president inherited rising unemployment, poverty and debt from President George W. Bush and the recession that began during his administration. Obama, they say, has worked against Republican opposition to turn them around.
In Maryland, Romney was trailed by former Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul.
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told CNN that the general election will be won by the person who can create the most private-sector jobs in this economy — and that person is Romney.
"He has the skill set not only to compete but to win," said Ehrlich, who co-chairs Romney's campaign here.
Janet Pate, who brought her four young children to the polls at Glenelg High School in Howard County, said she cast her ballot for Romney because "I think he has the best chance of beating Obama."
It was a refrain repeated by Republicans throughout the state.
"I think he's the worst president we've ever had," Ethel Ankeny, a retired nurse, said after voting for Romney at the Gen. Harry C. Ruhl Armory in Towson.
Cindy King, a Glen Burnie Democrat, voted for Obama.
During a second term, King said, the president can continue to grow the economy, create jobs and end the war in Afghanistan — "if everybody else will let him do his job. The nastiness needs to stop."
The president faces no serious competition for the Democratic nomination.
Romney, after months of fending off his Republican rivals, has pivoted in recent weeks toward the November election. He told Fox News on Tuesday that it was important for Republicans "to get a nominee as soon as we can and be able to focus on Barack Obama."
Campaigning in Wisconsin later in the day, he said the president "gets full credit or blame for what's happened in this economy, and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch and what's happened to our schools and what's happened to our military forces."
Santorum, who has less than half as many delegates as Romney, is now aiming to prevent the front-runner from winning the nomination outright before the Republican National Convention in August.
Campaigning in Wisconsin on Monday, he said a floor battle at the convention would be a "fascinating display of open democracy" that would energize Republicans for the election.
Santorum won Rick McShane's support.
"I honestly think he has a chance to get enough delegates so they can have a real discussion at the convention," the Towson man said.
Although the long primary campaign gave Maryland's minority party an unexpected moment in the national spotlight, election officials reported a light turnout at the polls. Participation was on target to be less than 25 percent of the electorate, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Romney's victory here was widely expected. A successful businessman who served a term as governor of Massachusetts, a state dominated by Democrats, he was seen as a good fit with pragmatic Republicans here.
"We've said all along, he's the man who can turn America's economy around and put people back to work, and he can win the election," said Louis Pope, co-chairman of Romney's Maryland campaign.
Speaking at a Romney celebration in Annapolis, Pope said it's time for the other candidates to step aside.
"This race has been over for the last month or so," he said. "When one side just keeps enlarging their lead, it's time to join the winning team and work toward our common goal, which is defeating Barack Obama.
"As we continue the primary, it is very difficult to raise money and it's costing precious resources that could be used in November."
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus summed up the GOP case against Obama in a message congratulating Romney on the Maryland win.
"Tonight, voters in Maryland cast their first ballots against the failed record of President Obama," he said in a statement. "Under President Obama, Marylanders have had to endure higher gas prices, grocery prices, and health care prices. Economic growth has been unacceptably slow, while government has grown unsustainably fast."
Romney was the only candidate in the GOP race to air television advertisements in Maryland, and he had the most organized get-out-the-vote operation. He also visited once, making a stop in Arbutus two weeks ago.
Gingrich and Paul also campaigned here. Santorum, from neighboring Pennsylvania, never came.
Still, some Republicans remain wary of Romney, who has changed positions on abortion, health care and gay rights since he ran for the Senate and later governor in Massachusetts.
"He has too much money and it's not clear how he got it," said Steve Waite, a state health inspector from Towson.
Waite said he voted for Paul.
"He's no-nonsense and he doesn't degrade the other candidates," he said.
Dale Kopec said he voted for Gingrich because he has the most experience in Washington. But the Glen Burnie man wasn't enthusiastic about it.
"I don't have a lot of love for any of them, the politicians," said Kopec. "I don't know that the politicians are addressing the issues as much as fighting to win the election. They're all full of promises."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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