Towson, Md. — “God bless the great state of Maryland,” Ted Cruz said as he took the stage in an airy, well-lit American Legion Hall Monday afternoon.
It’s not a phrase Marylanders have likely heard a lot from Republican presidential hopefuls. Since 1988, Maryland has been a blue state in presidential elections, making it an unlikely recipient of Republican attention. And its late primary means that by the time the Republican race gets to Maryland, it’s usually all over but the crying. But with the race still undecided just one week before Maryland’s April 26 primary, Marylanders are getting some love.
“This is really very exciting. It looks like Trump’s going to be here, Kasich’s here — Marylanders just don’t quite know what to do with all of this attention,” says Ellen Sauerbrey, a veteran Maryland politico who served as an ambassador-level representative to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. Sauerbrey voted for Cruz in early voting, but says she is not taking an active role in the campaign — though she introduced Carly Fiorina (who introduced Cruz) here Monday.
But with just a week to go, Maryland Republicans are finding it hard to gauge just what’s going on in their home state.
“There’s not been a whole lot of action,” says former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich in a phone call after the Cruz event. Ehrlich is supporting John Kasich. As for how the race is playing out in his home state, he says, “It’s very difficult to say. There has not been a lot of activism, not a lot of phone calls, not a lot of signs. It’s not exactly New Hampshire.”
Indeed, Maryland has not been a serious priority for candidates. This was Cruz’s first visit to the state, and he delivered the stump lines reporters have heard over and over again, not a speech tailored to the state he was in. Kasich made his first trip out there last week. Trump has not yet appeared in the state.
And the slow start has made people slow to choose. Donald Merriman, for instance, attended in a camo-patterned Cruz baseball cap, but says he is undecided between Cruz and Donald Trump, and is in fact leaning toward Trump.
“Almost every political activist that I know says the same thing: ‘I haven’t made up my mind. I don’t know who I’m going to vote for,’” says Sauerbrey.
“It’s hard because a lot of people didn’t want to commit,” echoes Maria Pycha, the first vice chair of the Baltimore County GOP, who helped put together the event for Cruz. “You’re just second guessing with a lot of people.”
Trump leads all three Maryland polls conducted over the last two weeks. In one, he leads by twelve with Cruz in second. In another, Trump’s lead is just seven points, and Cruz and Kasich are tied. In the third, Trump’s lead is 20 points, and Kasich is ahead of Cruz.
This event, says Pycha, “is the first solid [indicator of support] that we’ve seen for Cruz” in the state.
Maryland will award the 38 delegates on April 26 — the second-largest haul of any of the five states northeastern states that vote that day. Eleven delegates will go to the winner of the state as a whole. The other 24 — three from each of the eight congressional districts — will be allotted on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district. That makes Maryland an opportunity for campaigns looking to up their delegate count by selectively targeting a few congressional districts that are favorable to their candidate.
This, says Cruz communications director Catherine Frazier, is their goal in Maryland, though she declined to specify which districts. She describes their Maryland team as “very grassroots-oriented. The people who are working for us are people who are targeting their own grassroots network, their own local GOP parties, their spheres of influence.”
With the late start, there are few real pre-existing networks for the candidates to tap into. Republican governor Larry Hogan went all in for Chris Christie at the start of the race, and has since bowed out, describing himself as “not really engaged in the process” in an interview with the Washington Post.
“There’s really not a huge sort of grassroots base organizational structure such as we have in Florida or Virginia to tap into,” says Ehrlich.
Sauerbrey says she the widespread indecision has kept candidates from tapping into those pre-existing networks. Some of the people getting involved, she says, seem to be from outside those networks. “Looking around, generally, I know most people in a room. I didn’t know most of the people here,” she says.
Indeed, it was an eclectic crowd here Monday. One man wandered around wearing Google Glass; another sported a navy windbreaker with “Tyranny Response Team” written on the back. The age range varied from senior citizens to the pre-school aged set, several of whom — along with an American Girl doll and a stuffed bunny — formed an impromptu playgroup on the floor in the back as Fiorina introduced Cruz. One girl who looked to be college-aged had “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” written in black marker on the skin just above her knee. Another college-aged boy sported a bright purple jersey that read “Gym Tan Lax.” More than half a dozen people in the crowd of about 300 wore yarmulkes. There were several children in school uniforms, whose parents had apparently pulled them out of class to witness this historical moment in Maryland politics, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on a Monday.