WASHINGTON – Maryland’s presidential primary elections are less than three months away.
The top presidential hopefuls have spent almost no time in the state since the campaign began heating up in March, according to the Hotline, a political newsletter published by the National Journal.
It said Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, the leading Democrats, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the top Republican, have spent a total of six days in Maryland since March 15 — four days by Gore and one each by Bradley and Bush.
By comparison, those three have spent a total of 91 days in Iowa, 73 in New Hampshire, 39 in California and 36 in New York.
And Maryland is not likely to get much more attention as the primary progresses, either, say campaign watchers and political analysts.
“Maryland is kind of a middling state in the sweepstakes,” said James Gimpel, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “It’s not a prime target.”
At stake is an opportunity for Maryland to get some leverage with the man who might be the next president. Primaries also give voters more time “face to face” with the candidates, said one New Hampshire Democratic Party official.
“Candidates spend a lot of time and money in your state,” when it holds an early primary, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling Inc.
Because Maryland is not among the earliest elections, however, it does not have any critical effect on the process, Coker said.
“Too many other states have jumped out in front,” he said.
In an effort to combat that, Maryland and nine other states joined together for a March 7 “Super Tuesday” primary. Having all of the elections together was supposed to force candidates to spend time in the Super Tuesday states, Gimpel said.
But it has not worked, he said. Candidates spend their time in the bigger states, which have more Electoral College votes. This year’s Super Tuesday includes California and New York, which have a combined 87 electoral votes to Maryland’s 10.
But officials from both major parties in Maryland insisted that the state’s primaries are important.
“Maryland is unique in the fact that we are right next to the nation’s capital,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. “Maryland becomes part of the store.”
And Maryland Republican Executive Director Paul Ellington said the race is too hotly contested for any candidate to take any state for granted.
“Right now it looks to be between two candidates [for the GOP nomination] and I don’t think anybody feels confident enough to take anything for granted,” Ellington said. “We can be as significant as any other state,” he said.
A spokesman for the Bush campaign agreed.
“Obviously, there is a lot of attention being focused on the first primaries, but as we move forward, you’ll see more and more attention being focused on other states,” said Scott McClellan, the spokesman.
But Coker said he did not expect to see campaigning in Maryland pick up much as the primary gets closer. “I don’t see Maryland ever playing a major role in the whole process,” he said.