Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney is expected to cruise to an easy victory in Tuesday's primary in Maryland, a state dominated by the kind of centrist Republicans who have made the former Massachusetts governor the race's front-runner.
Though such a victory would further enhance his claim to the GOP nomination, low turnout could heighten skepticism about Romney's ability to excite the party's conservative base enough to defeat President Obama in November.
"I think there will be a big Romney win; it's a state that's tailor-made for him," said John White, a political scientist at Catholic University. "But I don't see a lot of excitement on the Republican side. What I'll be looking for is the ability of Mitt Romney to win independents. That will absolutely be crucial in the fall, and Maryland provides a great test in that regard."
Romney holds a commanding 17-point lead over his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, in Maryland, according to Rasmussen Reports' latest poll.
Still, the primary presents a rare opportunity for Maryland Republicans to bask in the political spotlight in the deep-blue state that's likely to go again for Obama in November.
Voters in the District and Wisconsin also vote Tuesday. Romney is expected to win by even wider margins in D.C., where Santorum isn't even on the ballot, and he leads in Wisconsin, the largest prize of the day. A sweep of the three contests -- which will award a total of 98 convention delegates -- would help Romney pad an already substantial lead over Santorum.
"I have a big day coming up next Tuesday, with elections in Wisconsin, Maryland the District of Columbia," Romney said last week on the campaign trail. "I hope to get a good number of delegates from those three contests and be on my way to secure the nomination and taking on the president."
Romney's rivals have essentially waved the white flag in Maryland.
"The closest Santorum got [to Maryland] was Gettysburg," quipped Catholic University's White. "Santorum has lost any state where less than 50 percent of the electorate is evangelical. Maryland fits that bill."
And Romney has the additional advantage of having a super-PAC that is paying to dominate the airwaves in Maryland, D.C. and Wisconsin. Santorum made only a modest ad buy in Wisconsin but is being thoroughly outspent by the deep-pocketed Romney campaign.
Some Washington-area residents said they've already tired of the deluge of ads, but also of the drawn-out nominating contest that's usually settled by the time Marylanders vote.
"I'm not voting on Tuesday; I really don't care about it or any of the candidates," said Lisa Rhodes, of Bethesda. "Let's just get this sideshow over with."