Maryland Republicans joined their counterparts in states from Georgia to Colorado to Maine yesterday, providing Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole a powerful push toward the GOP presidential nomination.
Mr. Dole dominated Maryland, capturing 53 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting. He was the top vote-getter in each congressional district, winning all the state's 32 convention delegates.
His support was widespread -- from moderates and conservatives alike. Patrick J. Buchanan, the TV commentator with the anti-abortion, America-first message, was running a distant second with 21 percent.
Publisher Steve Forbes was third with 13 percent, followed by former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and Maryland's Alan L. Keyes tied with 5 percent, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar with 1 percent. Rep. Robert K. Dornan of California and the Midwestern tire magnate Morry Taylor both registered zero percent.
Turnout was estimated at a dismal 25 percent of registered voters -- "disappointingly low, disastrously low," in the words of Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of election laws.
"It's the lowest in my lifetime in a presidential primary election," Mr. Raynor said. "It may be the first time in the history of Maryland that more Republicans voted than Democrats. The Democrats weren't even aware that there was an election."
For the first time since 1960, the state's Democratic primary was not seriously contested. President Clinton trounced his only challenger, perennial candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., with 84 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting. Mr. LaRouche received 5 percent, and 12 percent of voters were uncommitted.
Exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks showed that Mr. Dole ran strongly among the most conservative voters expected to back Mr. Buchanan -- religious conservatives, supporters of a constitutional amendment banning abortion and even those who believe foreign trade costs Maryland jobs.
"We really felt strongly that Dole was going to win in Maryland, but I think this exceeds our expectations," said 1st District Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Mr. Dole's campaign chairman in the state. "I think he has captured the heart of the middle, which is what America wants. They want a pragmatic, experienced president with good character and a good background."
Most voters polled said they thought Mr. Buchanan was too extreme.
Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said that Maryland Republicans were more likely to support moderate conservatives such as Mr. Dole -- "but not the Alan Keyes-Buchanan types."
She said she began sensing over the weekend that Mr. Dole might win big in Maryland.
"I truly believe that Marylanders didn't start focusing on this election until this weekend," Ms. Terhes said. "And when they did, they saw Dole's victory in South Carolina, and I think that energized Dole and energized the people."
And then, she said, voters looked at events around the world -- in Cuba, in the Middle East -- and realized that experience was paramount.
"I think they saw the need for someone who knows how to deal with domestic problems and also foreign policy problems," she said.
Nevertheless, exit polls showed that almost half the voters said they were not satisfied with the crop of Republican candidates.
Koreen Hughes, a 46-year-old devoted Republican from Eldersburg, said that she backed Mr. Dole but that her support was "soft." After her favorite candidate, Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, dropped out of the race, she did not warm up to any other candidate, Mrs. Hughes said.
"As a matter of fact," she said, "this is the first election in 21 years that I haven't been out knocking on doors for a candidate."
Mrs. Hughes and her husband, Mark, are such devout Republicans that they named their daughter Reagan after the former president. And they named their son Charlton after the actor Charlton Heston. At the 1982 Republican National Convention, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Heston were both delegates and sat next to one another.
Although Mrs. Hughes was not wild about any GOP contender, she said she'd support any of them against Mr. Clinton in November.
"They can't find a candidate I will not support in the general election," Mrs. Hughes said. "I will knock on thousands of doors if it means defeating Bill Clinton."
Mary Jo Neville, vice chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said she relished watching the Republican candidates throw grenades at each other during the campaign.
"I am enjoying this fully," Ms. Neville said, laughing. "But we needed a break. The Democrats have kind of made it an art form. Now the Republicans are showing they're pretty good at it, too.
"I'm not wishing it on them. I'm just glad for a change it's not us."
Pub Date: 3/06/96