Maryland GOP delegation unified behind Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens as his running mate Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign rally at the village green park in Powell, Ohio, on August 25, 2012. After months of campaigning, Republicans meet in Tampa, Fla. August 27-30 to officially crown Mitt Romney the nominee to challenge President Barack Obama.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens as his running mate Paul Ryan speaks during a campaign rally at the village green park in Powell, Ohio, on August 25, 2012. After months of campaigning, Republicans meet in Tampa, Fla. August 27-30 to officially crown Mitt Romney the nominee to challenge President Barack Obama. (JEWEL SAMAD)

Maryland Republicans converge on Tampa this week to cast their ballots for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and get energized for the November election against President Barack Obama.

"There's just a huge enthusiasm for the Romney-Ryan team, and we're glad to be a part of that," said state Del. Kathy Szeliga, a member of the Maryland delegation to the Republican National Convention. "Even though it's very tough for Romney to get elected here in Maryland, we feel like across the country his message is right: 'It's the economy, and we're the party that's going to turn it around.'"

As Szeliga notes, the GOP ticket is likely to be a tough sell in Maryland. A majority of the state's voters have favored the Democrat in each of the past five presidential elections — Obama won by 25 percentage points in 2008 — and is widely expected to back the incumbent this year.

Accordingly, the campaigns have been focusing time and money on battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Louis M. Pope, co-chairman of the Romney campaign in Maryland, called the assumption that Obama would win the state insulting to voters and said Republicans are "giving nothing away" in November.

"Maryland can go for Romney," said Pope, who is chairing the state's 37-member delegation to the GOP convention. "We are working hard to make sure the people of Maryland understand the positions of Mitt Romney, and I think ultimately they'll vote for him."

The approach of Tropical Storm Isaac has forced a change of plans for the convention. In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the Republican National Committee announced a one-day delay, saying that the convention will convene formally Monday and then go into immediate recess until Tuesday afternoon.

Delegates will begin the official roll call vote to nominate Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and will vote on a party platform. Maryland is one of 20 states that is giving all of its delegates to Romney, who is scheduled to accept the nomination in a speech Thursday evening.

The event attracts a broad range of Republican elected officials and leaders.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will be there but says he'll be spending the week in "Surrogateville," giving cable television interviews in support of Romney.

"My calendar will basically be, 'Show up here at this time, show up there at this time, this channel, that channel,'" he said.

Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman congressman from Baltimore County, plans to speak to the Maryland delegation in the middle of the week. Neither Ehrlich nor Harris is a convention delegate.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the state's other Republican congressman, has stressed his independence from the party during a tough re-election battle in Maryland's redrawn 6th District. The Western Maryland lawmaker is staying away from Tampa.

Outside the convention hall, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland will join Vice President Joe Biden and other top Democrats in responding to Republican speakers. The Montgomery County lawmaker is the top Democrat on the House budget committee chaired by Ryan.

Another possible visitor is Tropical Storm Isaac, now churning up the Gulf of Mexico. Republican officials have been watching the storm to gauge its potential impact on the convention.

Though Maryland's Republican delegation comes from a small blue state, members say they still enjoy influence at the convention. The key committees — platform and rules — consist of a man and a woman from each state, regardless of its size or political makeup.

When the platform committee met last week in Tampa, Szeliga wrote one successful amendment — clarifying that the party would not change Medicare or other benefits for those 55 and older — and helped champion another, that if comprehensive tax reform were not achieved, the party would preserve the mortgage interest tax deduction.

"Everybody was very respectful of whomever was speaking, regardless of what state they were from," Szeliga said.

St. Mary's College political scientist Todd Eberly acknowledged the equal representation on the key committees, which he said allows all states to be heard.

"But without question, states that are more reliably Republican tend to be more influential states at the convention," said Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at the college in Southern Maryland. "What they say and what they demand takes greater effect because it's more important that you win that state."

Szeliga, whose House of Delegates district straddles Baltimore and Harford counties, said Maryland's proximity to the national capital helps add to its clout.

"Are we with South Carolina and Texas? No. We're not in that league," she said. "But I think because we're so close to Washington, D.C., it gives us a little bit more credence. ... With all of the people that work in D.C., many of them live in Maryland."

Audrey Scott, former chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, says influence derives from relationships. "It depends on your players," she said.

She speaks of Romney's appearance at the state party's annual Red, White and Blue dinner in 2010, which drew 850 people and raised $110,000.

"He knows us, he knows me, he knows the Maryland players, and I think that that goes a long way," Scott said. "We have a personal relationship with the nominee. ... I think that outweighs numbers."

Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. says Maryland Republicans, as a minority in the state, bring energy to the national party.

"You're hardened by the fire of being in an all-Democratic state," said Smigiel, whose district spans four counties on the Eastern Shore. "Nothing comes easy. You work twice as hard, and you've got to work twice as hard, be twice as effective to be able to accomplish the platform that you want."

Several convention delegates spoke of getting energized in Tampa for the November election in Maryland.

Ehrlich and Harris spoke of re-electing Bartlett while doing what they could for Romney.

Even if Obama does win the state, Harris said, Republicans still have an interest in turning out as many votes for Romney as possible.

While the Electoral College count puts a candidate in the White House, he said, it's the popular vote that gives the president the power to advance an agenda.

"What I don't want to have happen is a repeat of 2000," Harris said. That was the year George W. Bush won the Electoral College and the presidency without capturing the popular vote.

"We're going to need that mandate," Harris said. "Everyone is going to count everywhere in the United States. We saw in 2000 when [Bush] was really left without the mandate that I think Mr. Romney will need … we need to turn out every single vote for Mr. Romney."

As for Tropical Storm Isaac, it was forecast to strengthen to a hurricane on Monday, the day the convention opens.

"We hope that storm actually turns course and heads for Charlotte [N.C.] instead," Pope said.

That's where Democrats hold their convention next week.

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.