NEW YORK – Even though Maryland is widely considered a safe state for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Maryland Republicans are conceding nothing and say they believe the president will win the state come November.
“Maryland will go for George Bush,” James Pelura, chairman for the Maryland Campaign for Bush, told Maryland delegates to the Republican National Convention Monday, the opening day of the four-day event.
But that doesn’t mean the top of the ticket is going to spend a lot of time in the state, he said. Neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to campaign in Maryland, Pelura said.
Pelura, who is also an alternate at-large delegate for the convention, said his party would not be upset if the president did not visit Maryland because there are other important states on which Bush needs to focus.
“Politics means you have to concentrate a campaign on states that will give you the most reward,” Pelura said. “We understand in Maryland if the president elects not to campaign in Maryland – there are other states that are battleground states.”
Both Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, are expected to campaign in Maryland before the November election, state campaign officials said.
“The Kerry campaign is spending a lot of money in Montgomery County,” Pelura said in an earlier phone interview. “That says to me that they’re not getting their message across. Candidates usually don’t campaign in a state they usually have in their corner.”
But Wayne Rogers, chairman of the Maryland Campaign for Kerry called Pelura’s contention “total nonsense.”
“(Kerry) takes no state for granted and he wants to campaign in every state in the country,” Rogers said. “And he’s going to try and get to every state he can.”
John Kane, Maryland Republican Party chairman, told delegates Monday that he agreed with Pelura, but cautioned that Maryland can’t be written off completely.
“We’re in play, but we’re just not as much in play as six other states,” Kane said.
Maryland’s 10 electoral votes stack up well against some highly contested states like Arizona (10), Minnesota (10), Iowa (7), Missouri (11), Wisconsin (10) and North Carolina (15). Still, states like Florida (27), Ohio (20) and Pennsylvania (21), will be the most heavily courted areas this fall.
While Pelura does not anticipate Bush stopping in Maryland before the election, the president has visited Pennsylvania 32 times since taking office, including a visit to Ridley Park, Pa., on Aug. 17.
Likewise, Kerry has frequented the Keystone State. Among other trips to Pennsylvania, Kerry announced his selection of John Edwards for vice president in Pittsburgh and campaigned in Scranton, Pa., on July 30, his first stop as the Democratic presidential nominee. He has stopped in Pennsylvania 15 times since unofficially wrapping up the nomination on March 13.
Democrat Al Gore won Pennsylvania by four percentage points in 2000, and recent polls suggest it will be a tight race there again. Gore beat Bush by more than 300,000 votes in Maryland in 2000, earning 57 percent to Bush’s 40 percent.
But Pelura is confident that Bush will win Maryland this time around, citing poll data that shows Bush within five points of Kerry. However, in a SurveyUSA poll conducted between Aug. 23 and Aug. 25, 53 percent of Maryland voters favor Kerry, while 42 percent favor Bush, with a 4.1 percent margin of error.
The last time Maryland voted for a GOP presidential candidate was in 1988, when George H.W. Bush won 51.1 percent of the vote to defeat Michael Dukakis, with 48.2 percent, by fewer than 50,000 votes.
James G. Gimpel, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said it’s important for the candidates to visit the battleground states, but campaigning doesn’t matter in states that are overwhelmingly Democrat or Republican.
“Let’s face it – Maryland is a hopelessly lopsided blue state and it makes no sense for Bush to visit,” he said.
Gore stopped in College Park in August 2000. Following the 2000 convention, he campaigned in Hollywood, Md., to discuss his concern over high gas prices. Gimpel said those trips did not have an impact on voters, as Gore had secured Maryland before setting foot in the state. Neither Bush nor Cheney visited Maryland during the 2000 campaign. -30- CNS-8