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Was there a GOP ‘protest vote’ against Trump in the Maryland primary?

In this combination of 2018 photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Collier, Pennsylvania, and President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
In this combination of 2018 photos, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Collier, Pennsylvania, and President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (STF)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld ended his bid to challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination back in March.

But even as a noncandidate, Weld — who remained on ballots in Maryland’s June 2 primary because he didn’t leave the race in time to withdraw — managed to accumulate double-digit percentages of Republican votes in some counties.

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While Trump secured 87.3% of GOP votes statewide, Weld topped 20% in such suburban counties as Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s. The latter two are Maryland’s most populous counties.

Those figures were higher than most presidential primary challengers receive historically, and could represent a protest vote since Weld had not been a candidate since March 18.

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“Maybe this is a little glimpse,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “That’s not a good thing for President Trump. It doesn’t matter in [heavily Democratic] Maryland, but the question is, ‘Are Republican suburban voters, particularly women, in Montgomery County different than Republican suburban voters everywhere?’”

Maryland Republican Party Chair Dirk Haire discounted the notion of a protest vote. Haire said that “15% of Democrats voted against Joe Biden, even though nearly all other Democrats ended their campaigns months ago. Is that a protest vote against Biden?”

Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, got 84.2% of the Maryland primary vote from his party. Both primary contests were conducted mostly by mail.

The Democratic ballot still included the names of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana; U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and other former contenders.

Trump, who remains popular overall within the GOP, exceeded 90% in many Maryland counties, particularly in conservative strongholds in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — who boasts high approval ratings in the deep blue state — skipped the 2016 Republican convention in which Trump was first nominated and has said that that he didn’t vote for him.

Last year, Hogan flirted with challenging Trump in the 2020 primaries. The governor decided against it, saying he was focused on his second term in Annapolis and on leading the National Governors Association as its chair.

In the June 2 state primary, Weld got 12.7 percent of the vote. He got 22.7% in Montgomery, 22.9% in Prince George’s and 20.4% in Howard. He received 14.3% in Anne Arundel County, 11.3% in Baltimore County, 11.1% in Carroll County, and 9.5% in Harford County.

While Biden is beating Trump in many national polls, the president told Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade recently: “I have other polls where I’m winning, and you’ve seen them, too.”

Trump campaign officials had no comment on the Maryland returns.

The last time a sitting Republican president sought to reclaim his party’s nomination was George W. Bush in 2004. There was no other candidate on the ballot for Marylanders to vote for. Bush went on to win a second term against Democrat John Kerry.

Before that, Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, got 70% of the vote in Maryland’s GOP primary as he ran for reelection in 1992. An alternative GOP candidate, Patrick Buchanan, got 30%. Bush lost the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton.

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