Romney makes inroads with the right in Wis., Md

By Jennifer Agiesta

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets the crowd at a primary election night rally in Milwaukee, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, after Romney won the Wisconsin Republican presidential primary.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney won the Maryland Republican presidential primary broadly and deeply, besting chief rival Rick Santorum among conservatives as well as moderates and emerging as the runaway favorite of those who care most about beating President Barack Obama and fixing the economy. The trend was similar if less convincing in Wisconsin, Tuesday's other big win for Romney, where he made inroads with the right but faced a strong challenge for the votes of the young and evangelicals.

In both states, Romney found a greater degree of success among constituencies that had flocked in past months to the now-fading Santorum. Still, his campaign-long struggle to identify with lower income people and the less educated endures, a gap more meaningful in the general election ahead than in the Republican contests.

Romney's win in Maryland was anticipated: the dimensions of it, perhaps beyond expectations.

For only the fourth time in the long campaign season, Romney won the support of a majority who called themselves conservative, according to preliminary results of an exit poll in Maryland. The only other such races were in Virginia, where Santorum wasn't on the ballot; Nevada, with a large Mormon population; and Massachusetts, where he was governor.

Maryland was also one of Romney's best showings among evangelicals — they made up one-third of the Maryland primary electorate — who had been a strong bloc for Santorum. That group was still a tough sell for Romney in Wisconsin, though, where he and Santorum split the votes of white born-again Christians.

Along with Ron Paul, a distant rival in the primary contest, Romney and Santorum vied closely for the support of voters 18-29, while Santorum scored strongly with those of the lowest incomes. Romney showed his usual strength among seniors and rich Republicans. But he also was besting Santorum among conservatives and tea party supporters.

In another measure of progress among conservatives, Romney had the edge with Wisconsin voters who said the government should do more to promote traditional values — a message at the heart of Santorum's campaign.

Like him or not, Wisconsin voters were convinced Romney is on his way to the nomination. About 80 percent said he'll win that race.

Voters Tuesday were among the least conservative to cast ballots in a primary season that saw the Republican race pulled sharply to the right. Even so, nearly half in Wisconsin said Romney was not conservative enough for their taste; 4 in 10 said the same in Maryland. Santorum had no trouble convincing voters Tuesday of his ideological bona fides, and about 3 in 10 in each state described him as too conservative.

But it was also apparent that the contest was about much more than that.

In Maryland, those most concerned about the economy supported Romney over Santorum by more than 30 percentage points. The economy was the top issue for about half of Maryland voters and an even bigger concern in Wisconsin.

Few voters in either state said they see the economy on the upswing. Only about 1 in 5 in Maryland and 3 in 10 in Wisconsin said the economy is improving. The next most important issue in both states: the budget deficit, which shaped how more than one-quarter of the primary-goers voted.

Romney won in Maryland among those age 45 and over, but he did best among seniors, besting Santorum by about 40 points. Santorum held an edge among those under age 45. But in nearly every other breakdown of voters — men and women, college education and not, rich and poor — Romney outperformed the field.

In both states, about 4 in 10 voters said the ability to beat Obama was the trait they most wanted in a candidate.

And in Whitefish Bay, Wis., Lana Adikes, 65, made the cold calculation that Romney was that candidate. "I think he's the only one who can do it," she said.

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