POLITICS

Election 2012: Primary day arrives in D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin

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Republican front-runner Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are trading jabs even before Republicans vote in their latest presidential primaries, a sign that both sides believe the race to decide who will oppose the Democrat this fall is coming to a close.

GOP hopefuls, including Romney, are vying for nearly 100 delegates in the D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin primaries. (Photo: AP) (Photo: Associated Press)

With GOP primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Romney is set to hold one campaign event before an election night party in Milwaukee. He spent the weekend campaigning across Wisconsin, working to win yet another big industrial state that rival Rick Santorum was counting on to keep his flagging candidacy alive.

"Take the next step here in Wisconsin," Romney urged supporters at his last campaign stop Monday. "I need you to go out and vote. Get your friends."

More than 80 percent of Republicans who cast ballots in Wisconsin's presidential primary say they expect Mitt Romney to be the party's nominee. Preliminary results of an exit poll in Wisconsin on Tuesday show Republicans divided on which candidate they trust most to handle health care.

About 4 in 10 GOP voters in the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries say the most important trait a candidate can have is the ability to defeat President Barack Obama in November.

Almost as many combined say that it's vital for a candidate to be a true conservative or have strong moral character.

Voters in the two states are among the least conservative to cast ballots this primary season. Just three states have had fewer voters calling themselves "very conservative."

The New York Times cites a Public Policy Polling survey that says that Romney, who has shifted his rhetoric from primary mode to campaign stumping in recent days, is primed to take both Wisconsin and Maryland on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, election officials are are predicting low voter turnout throughout the Free State, where Tuesday's GOP primary is closed to Republican voters only.

"Just in the last few weeks, voters realized there was an election coming up," Maryland voter Elli Shaw said.

However, those who are turning out to vote in Maryland have strong reasons for why they're doing so.

Obama is treating the former Massachusetts governor as though he's already won the GOP nomination.

The president's re-election campaign is running a new TV ad in five swing states attacking Romney by name for the first time - in this case as a backer of "Big Oil" amid high gasoline prices.

While charging that Obama's version of a perfect world is one with "a big-spending big government," Romney is acting as though his opponents for the nomination no longer matter.

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