Candidates in the 6th Congressional District ran from polling place to polling place this morning, confronting particularly low turnouts despite the sunny, warm weather.
Still, the candidates were confident in their get-out-the-vote operation and suggested that turnout for today's primary -- in which Marylanders will help choose a GOP presidential candidate and settle a handful of highly competitive congressional races -- might be higher in the afternoon.
"There's a lot of energy, there's a lot of enthusiasm," said state Sen. Rob Garagiola, a leading Democrat in the race. "We're going to turn out those voters."
His top challenger, John Delaney, was standing outside Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville, meeting a trickle of voters as they entered the building.
"Energy levels seem very good," the Potomac banker said. "My sense from the voters that we're talking to is that we're doing very well."
On the Republican side, incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, focused much of his attention in the morning on Western Maryland, which is still a GOP stronghold. Bartlett said his campaign had placed a flurry of phone calls to voters in the days leading up to the race to remind them of the election.
"We have our signs out and we have people at most of the voting locations today," Bartlett said. "We're taking this very seriously."
While much of the nation's focus in the presidential race will be on Wisconsin, Maryland Republicans will offer up to 37 delegates to one of the candidates in the primary. Voters could help solidify Mitt Romney's front-runner status or potentially alter the course of the race by surprising pundits and backing another candidate.
"If Romney can run strong everywhere [in Maryland], that's a pretty good sign that he's not only winning those moderate voters, but that he is starting to pull in more of the conservative voters," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
But if Romney does not win here, Eberly added, "the doubts that already exist out there about whether or not he can close the deal would balloon."
National leaders in both political parties will also closely monitor the primary elections in the Maryland's 6th District, which is expected to produce one of the nation's most competitive House races this fall.
Elliott Allentuck, a 71-year-old Rockville resident, came out to vote because he is concerned that the Supreme Court will overturn the nation’s new health care law. The Democrat voted for Garagiola.
“I’m worried about health care,” Allentuck said. “The economy, I feel, will work itself out.”
Martha Hefferon, an 84-year-old Rockville resident, said she turned out to support anyone who could beat President Barack Obama in November. In the 6th District, she voted for state Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who is challenging Bartlett.
“If we don’t get this president out of this office, this country is dead,” Hefferon said. “It’s driving me crazy.”
Other competitive races include the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, in which former Secret Service agent Daniel John Bongino is running against former Pentagon official Richard J. Douglas. Democrats John LaFerla of Chestertown and Wendy Rosen of Cockeysville are battling for a chance to challenge Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st District, now a Republican stronghold.
For a state that is often passed over in presidential contests, Maryland received an unusual amount of attention from the candidates in recent weeks. Romney, who enjoys the support of well-known Maryland Republicans such as former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., campaigned in Arbutus.
Newt Gingrich stumped in Annapolis and Salisbury, and he returned to Frederick on Monday.
Speaking to about 100 supporters at a Ford dealership in Frederick, the former House speaker acknowledged his long-shot status but noted that Romney was a long way from locking up the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. He later addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Hood College.