ANNAPOLIS -- Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich courted Maryland voters on Tuesday by criticizing Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to raise gasoline taxes, saying it's politically insensitive and "very anti-working American."
"There's talk here about an increase in the gas tax for Maryland, which I think shows as much political insensitivity as you could imagine given everybody's concern about the price of gasoline," Gingrich told reporters after touring the State House in Annapolis. "To have an effort made to raise the price by as much as 25 cents a gallon strikes me as being very anti-working American," he added, referring to O'Malley's proposal to add the state's 6 percent sales tax to gas.
Gingrich visited Annapolis in preparation for the state's primary election next Tuesday, which has become uniquely important this year thanks to a long, drawn-out primary slog. Maryland's primary typically comes too late in the national nominating contest to become a deciding factor, and with a 2-to-1 ratio of Democrats to Republicans, the state has never really mattered much to the GOP.
But Republican presidential hopefuls this year are flocking to Maryland, which has 37 delegates to offer.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is planning a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland on Wednesday night, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is also planning a visit to the state, though his campaign has not released his travel plans.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney visited Baltimore County early last week, and the super-PAC supporting him, Restore Our Future, has spent half a million dollars on a television ad campaign across the state.
Romney is expected to do well in Maryland because the state has a large percentage of affluent, well-educated and high-salaried voters -- precisely the voting bloc that he consistently attracts, according to exit polls.
"I suspect that Maryland and the quickly proceeding primaries right after it -- including Delaware and D.C. -- will mark the death knell for Santorum," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "I predict that Romney will win Maryland quite comfortably, and once again the talk of his inevitability [as the nominee] will return."
Gingrich criticized Romney on Tuesday, but also promised to support the former Massachusetts governor if he becomes the nominee.
"If he gets a majority [of delegates], obviously I will support him and will be delighted to do everything I can to defeat Obama," Gingrich said.
He later quipped: "I will probably do a better job at debating President Obama."