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For GOP rivals, a low N.E. profile

Stumping elsewhere for Super Tuesday

By Shira Schoenberg
Globe Correspondent / March 5, 2012
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Nancy Luther is a Republican state committeewoman from Topsfield and an undecided voter. She should be a prime target for the Republican presidential candidates in advance of Tuesday’s primary, one of 10 contests nationwide on that day.

But, Luther said, “No one’s called.’’

In fact, Luther asked a member of her Republican city committee about it last week. “I said, has anybody had a mailing? Any phone calls? Any robocalls?’’

Other than the signs outside polling places, Massachusetts residents have seen little indication that their presidential primary is on what is known as Super Tuesday. In contrast to most other states, there have been no television ad blitzes or rounds of last-minute meetings with candidates.

The contrast with most other states is stark. Voters on Sunday could have met former Bay State governor Mitt Romney at the Snellville pancake brunch in Georgia or caught former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum at Corky’s BBQ in Tennessee. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich spent Saturday in Ohio, while Texas Representative Ron Paul visited Washington, which caucused Saturday.

But in two Super Tuesday states, Massachusetts and Vermont, signs of the primaries are rare. Romney holds strong advantages in both states, particularly Massachusetts. The other candidates seem willing to cede the liberal-leaning northeast to Romney, despite Massachusetts’ 41 delegates and Vermont’s 17.

“It’s been quiet,’’ said Peter McNair, vice chairman of the Western Massachusetts Republican Committee. “I think there’s a lot of apathy. . . . It’s been very lackluster.’’

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said, “We’re taking nothing for granted.’’ Williams said the campaign is relying on a network of supporters Romney built up as governor.

In the past week, no candidate has visited New England.

Vermont, where only Paul is on the air, is getting slightly more attention than Massachusetts. The only money spent in Massachusetts or Vermont by a super PAC, groups that support candidates but cannot coordinate with them, comes from a pro-Gingrich group that launched a national radio ad buy, with the cost spread across the country, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

In one restaurant in Cambridge on Sunday, questions about the primary were met with blank stares. “I haven’t heard anyone talk about it in Massachusetts,’’ said Jesse Murphy, a Democrat from Newton who teaches technology to college faculty.

Robert Maginn, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party and a Romney supporter, said Massachusetts “is not a battleground state’’ because it is clear Romney will win here easily. Maginn said he hopes Republican and independent voters still turn out because the state awards delegates proportionally, so the margin of victory matters.

But Massachusetts Republican strategist Todd Domke predicted turnout will be low because the result seems like a done deal. “There’s less excitement in this state, in this primary, than there’s been in any other primary state so far,’’ Domke said. “This never was a contest. It never felt like a contest, was never covered like a contest, didn’t have the advertising to make people feel conscious of a contest.’’

Paul’s Massachusetts state director, Matthew Robinson, said Paul has not visited for strategic reasons. “The national campaign has a specific strategy to focus on key states where Ron Paul can do best,’’ he said. “Massachusetts is not one of those states.’’

Robinson, a volunteer, said Paul has a network of grass-roots supporters who hand out literature and make phone calls. But often, they call other states.

Santorum and Gingrich’s campaigns did not respond to questions about their Massachusetts activity.

In Vermont, Mike Bertrand, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, said Romney’s campaign has been the most aggressive. Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a Romney surrogate, met with Vermont supporters. Romney earned numerous Vermont endorsements, including from former lieutenant governor Brian Dubie.

“I think candidates tend to focus their efforts on places they know they can win,’’ Bertrand said. “I think Romney will probably have a very good showing up here, and the other candidates certainly recognize that.’’

Demographically, Gingrich is strongest in the South. Santorum is focused on states with numerous Tea Party supporters and evangelical Christians. In addition to Romney’s hometown advantage, Massachusetts Republicans are more moderate and ideologically aligned with him.

A Suffolk University poll, conducted Feb. 11-15, found Romney with support from 64 percent of likely Massachusetts Republican voters, followed by Santorum with 16 percent.

John Carroll, assistant professor of mass communication at Boston University, said Romney doesn’t need to advertise in Massachusetts. For his competitors, “They might as well set their money on fire,’’ Carroll said. A Romney victory “feels like a foregone conclusion.’’

Romney plans to return to Massachusetts on Tuesday, but the emphasis will not be on winning over Bay Staters. Instead, he plans to hold what he hopes will be a victory celebration for a number of Super Tuesday states, including Massachusetts.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com.

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