Lay of the Land: Maryland presidential primary

Few states have had as many competitive presidential primaries as Maryland, which has elements of North and South, urban and rural, and white and black America. The map below shows how the state broke down in four primaries between 1976 and 1992. The green counties reflect how the state as a whole voted: Jerry Brown over Jimmy Carter in 1976, Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale over Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart in 1984, and Paul Tsongas over Bill Clinton in 1992. These bellwether counties include Baltimore (separate from the city of Baltimore), which cast the second-largest number of votes in the 2004 primary. Baltimore County is not nearly as affluent as the suburbs of Washington, DC (especially Montgomery County, which is the biggest Democratic primary trove in the state), so Hillary Clinton may be able to get working-class support as she has in other Northeastern states. But recent polls suggest that Barack Obama is strong even in less wealthy suburbs, which would put the state closer in line with Southern states such as Georgia.

But as competitive as Maryland has been in past primary seasons, it is not exactly a bellwether. Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas, of course, did not go on to become Democratic nominees. Instead, it’s been the winner of the counties colored blue on our map that have gone on to win at the summer conventions. They are less populous than the ones in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and include parts of the panhandle (a mountainous region that looks toward West Virginia and western Pennsylvania) and the Eastern Shore (which has a Southern orientation). If Obama wins Maryland solely on the basis of the counties that have backed insurgent candidates (Brown, Jackson, Tsongas), it might not mean much, but if his support reaches into the panhandle and Eastern Shore, it might be a sign that he can be competitive in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. (Conversely, if Clinton can steal Montgomery County, it’s a bad sign for Obama’s ability to win votes in suburban Philadelphia.)

Incidentally, I didn’t include 1988 on the map because Michael Dukakis beat Jesse Jackson in all but two counties (the same two that Jackson won in 1984, Baltimore city and Prince George’s). As for 2004, John Kerry won all 24 counties. But Charles and Howard counties came closest to matching Kerry’s 60-26 margin over John Edwards. Charles County (southwest of Prince George’s) was 59-27 and Howard County (northeast of Montgomery) was 61-27.

As for Virginia… alas, there isn’t as much history there, since the state held caucuses rather than primaries in all of the years covered on the map below.  But one candidate for a bellwether is Halifax County, which is on the North Carolina border about halfway across the state (and halfway between the Appalachian region that would seem to favor Clinton and the coastal region, with a large number of African-American voters, that would seem to favor Obama). In 2004, the state of Virginia gave 51 percent to Kerry, 27 percent to Edwards, and 9 percent to Wesley Clark. Halifax went 52-28-9.