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Laurel Republicans prepare for 2012 presidential primary contest

Maryland's presidential primary election day is around the corner, and Laurel Republicans are preparing for the rare opportunity to get to vote with multiple candidates still in the race.

"It's certainly one that Republicans are excited to have," said Laurel resident Jason Papanikolas, who is chairman of the Prince George's CountyRepublican Central Committee and ran for a seat in the House of Delegates in 2010.

However, he added: "There's no one I've heard of up here in Laurel who seems to be particularly enthusiastic about any of the (presidential) candidates per se."

Unlike in many past presidential election years, where the nominee was known before Maryland voters hit the polls, 2012 presents Maryland Republicans with the opportunity to choose from eight different presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Romney has been the clear front-runner throughout the primary, but the other candidates have not let him run away with the nomination.

Papanikolas said if Romney wins Maryland, "we could actually clench it for him on April 3." However, he cautioned, "it's all a numbers game" based on delegates.

"A big fear for Republicans this time around is a brokered primary" in which a nominee is not decided until the Republican National Convention in August, Papanikolas said.

The way Maryland allocates its delegates could create an opening for Santorum, Gingrich or Paul to pick up support for the convention even if they fail to win the state's popular vote, according to a Baltimore Sun report. Twenty four of Maryland's 37 delegates are awarded by congressional district, meaning that the candidates could add to their delegate count if they win one or two of the districts.

Ten statewide delegates go to the winner of the popular vote. The three remaining slots are filled by party officials, including state party chair Alex Mooney.

"We've been waiting for a long time to get our due attention from the possible next president of the United States," Mooney told the Sun. "Maryland matters."

Romney held a town hall meeting in Arbutus March 21 and Gingrich made campaign stops in Annapolis March 27. Paul was scheduled to conduct a town hall meeting in College Park March 28 and Santorum was also scheduled to visit the state this week.

"We're really happy to finally be in the hunt and actually see our presidential candidates," Papanikolas said.

Papanikolas said the Central Committee doesn't endorse candidates in contested primaries, but if he had to pick one it would be Romney.

"He seems to have the best economic policy out there, and this is going to be an economic election," he explained.

The Central Committee typically gets more involved after the primary, when the party has one candidate it can unite around.

"After the primary, the one unifying factor is going to be the desire to make Barack Obama a one-term president," Papanikolas said.

Prince George's Countyhas about 47,000 registered Republicans, of which about 4,600, or 9.8 percent, are from Laurel.

While that pales in comparison to the roughly 400,000 registered Democrats inPrince George's County, Papanikolas said "there are enough Republicans here that no candidate can afford to write off the county as a lost cause."

He added: "We're going to be doing some voter registration outreach this year, too — try to get more independents to sign up and try to get some Democrats who are conservative-leaning to switch their registration."

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

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