On both sides of the great Republican divide, there is a strong hunch that Maryland is George Bush country. Pat Buchanan may have grown up in Chevy Chase and spent most of his life in the Greater Washington area, but his appeal to the Maryland GOP hierarchy is nil. All three Republican members of the state's delegation in Congress, all three GOP county executives, every single Republican in the General Assembly, probably all GOP members of county councils -- they are solidly in the president's camp.
Even Seth Stein, who is Mr. Buchanan's campaign manager here, concedes that "expectations are not good" in Maryland. It is not a "conservative state," he says, and has "inherent disadvantages." Nonetheless, Mr. Stein is elated there will be a complete Buchanan slate of 24 delegates on the March 3 primary ballot, something not even Jack Kemp could achieve in his 1988 conservative bid.
This alone is enough to send shivers down the spines of Bush operatives, especially after the president's dismal showing in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. They worry that if Mr. Buchanan picks up only two or three delegates, the media will interpret this as a bit of a triumph.
We believe these concerns are well-founded. When the president returns to Maryland Monday, he should take Mr. Buchanan on directly. His challenger is a protectionist and an isolationist whose intolerant comments over the years seem designed to divide rather than unite Americans. The days when Mr. Bush thought he could dance a presidential waltz to the Republican nomination next August are over. He needs to defeat his right-wing challenger decisively if he is not to be softened up for defeat by the Democrats in November.
To put it bluntly, if Mr. Bush cannot do well in Maryland it is doubtful he can do well anywhere. On those rare occasions when Republicans win statewide office, they are moderates in the McKeldin-Mathias-Beall tradition. Almost one-quarter of the state's 622,000 registered GOP voters reside in Montgomery County, whose Eighth Congressional District is represented by Rep. Connie Morella, possessor of one of the most liberal GOP voting records in Congress.
If Maryland is "America in Miniature," the Republican Party here is very much the Republican Party in miniature. Democrats predominate. Mr. Bush had better win his party's approval or face the consequences. As never before, Maryland will be a pivotal state in the primary sweepstakes.