Three Republican presidential candidates — Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich — are preparing to plant a flag in Maryland ahead of the state's April 3 primary, offering GOP voters here a rare chance to take part in a national political battle.
Local campaign officials said they expect candidates will swing through the state early next week, following Saturday's primary in Louisiana. Maryland, which has 37 delegates to offer, votes the same day as Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.
"We've been waiting for a long time to get our due attention from the possible next president of the United States," said state Republican Party Chairman Alex X. Mooney. "Maryland matters."
The state's primary comes at an important time for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who campaigned Wednesday in Arbutus. Romney has a significant lead in delegates but has been unable to woo skeptical conservatives.
A national spokeswoman for Santorum's campaign said the former senator from Pennsylvania is planning to visit the state Tuesday, though she provided no details.
Gingrich is also planning a trip to Annapolis on Tuesday, said a state delegate who is leading the candidate's Maryland campaign, and might venture onto the floors of the Maryland General Assembly. National campaign aides have not confirmed that plan.
Del. Warren E. Miller, a Howard County Republican who is co-chairing Gingrich's campaign in Maryland, said he expected Gingrich would arrive in the morning and walk down Main Street to meet with business owners. He said he had also invited Gingrich to the State House.
Gingrich is also expected to attend a fundraiser in Montgomery County, local officials said.
Paul, the Texas congressman, will appear Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland, College Park, a campaign spokesman said.
Romney, who dropped out of the running for the nomination in 2008, days before Maryland voted, is the most organized candidate in Maryland. He has amassed a coterie of well-known GOP officials and volunteers.
Twenty-four of 37 delegates in Maryland are awarded by congressional district, meaning that the candidates could add to their delegate count even if they lost the state's popular vote. Ten statewide delegates go to the winner of the popular vote.
Three remaining slots go to party officials, including Mooney.