WASHINGTON – Independent voters are not expected to have the impact in Maryland’s Republican primary that they did in New Hampshire, where a large number of independents gave the winning edge Tuesday to presidential hopeful John McCain.
Analysts and candidates alike in Maryland say the dynamics are different here, where independents will be allowed to vote for the first time ever in the Maryland Republican primary March 7.
“There might be a marginal change in the presidential race, especially with what happened in New Hampshire,” said Brad Coker, director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research. “But in terms of the Senate, I don’t think there will be any.”
Maryland State Republican Party Executive Director Paul Ellington said he is excited about the open primary. The change, approved at the party’s May convention, will only apply to this election, but Ellington said a permanent change could be enacted later after the 2000 results are examined.
“We’re hoping to increase voter participation,” Ellington said. “Especially with such a highly contested presidential race on the Republican side.”
Coker estimates that between 10 and 12 percent of Maryland’s 1.5 million registered voters are independents.
Of the eight Republicans vying for the chance to run against Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, most said they are pleased with the decision to open the primary to independents, but are unsure of its implications.
“It increases democracy and that’s a great idea,” said Rob Sobhani, a Montgomery County businessman and Senate candidate. “I think one effect it will have is getting people out to vote.”
Paul Rappaport, a Howard County lawyer who has run unsuccessfully for attorney general and lieutenant governor, said he has mixed feelings about opening the primary.
“I think that Republicans should vote for Republican candidates,” he said. “But if it lets independents vote it’s a good idea.”
Ellington believes that the open primary will make for Republican nominees who are more attractive to independents.
But Jim Gimpel, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park, doubts that independents will flock to Republican nominees in the general election.
“Independents tend to look more to the majority party, and Maryland is a Democratic state” Gimpel said. “I don’t think that independents will be flooding into the polls to support Republicans, because they don’t field credible candidates.”
American University history professor Allan Lichtman agreed that the primary would have little effect on the general election in Senate race.
“It just doesn’t matter,” Lichtman said. “Republicans have two chances to beat Sarbanes — slim and none.”
State Democrats have not opened their primary to independent voters and have no plans to do so, said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
“Our position is that to vote for a Democratic candidate, you should be a member of the Democratic Party,” he said. “This is really an act of desperation because we beat them [the Republicans] like dogs every time.”