WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Mitt Romney is expected to coast to victory Tuesday in the lightly contested Republican presidential primary in the District of Columbia, which offers GOP voters in the nation’s capital a rare opportunity to have their voices heard in national politics.
The district will send 16 delegates in August to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The primary is winner-take-all and is expected to help Romney solidify his march to the GOP nomination. Primaries are also being held in Maryland and Wisconsin.
The Republican candidates have made little effort to court the district’s 30,000 GOP voters, although Romney sent a few staffers to the district to help with get-out-the-vote efforts. The only candidate to make a campaign appearance in the district was Newt Gingrich, and that was a speech to Georgetown University students that made no mention of the primary.
The district’s Republican leadership has united behind Romney, and the former Massachusetts governor won a straw poll at a GOP fundraising dinner last week with 72 percent of the vote. No other candidate received more than 9 percent.
But while Romney’s support is widespread among district Republicans, it’s not always enthusiastic.
“I voted for Romney, but I’m not happy about it. It was a reluctant vote,” said David Avila, a 37-year-old lawyer. “I don’t like his negative advertising, and I’m not sure that he’s the most genuine individual candidate. But the alternative was Gingrich, who I don’t consider viable at this point.”
Rick Santorum, Romney’s strongest rival, is not on the ballot in the district, where Republican voters tend to be more socially moderate than in the Southern states where Santorum has picked up most of his delegates. Voters will choose between Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul. Jon Huntsman, who has suspended his campaign, is still on the ballot.
Republicans make up just 6.6 percent of the electorate in the district and Democrats outnumber them 11 to 1. The Democratic candidate has carried the district in every presidential election since residents were granted the right to vote for president in 1961.
Many district Republicans are outspoken in favor of giving the city a voting representative in Congress, which puts them at odds with many in their party. None of the active GOP presidential candidates has taken a position on voting rights.
Voters in the district will also decide 10 local primary races. It’s the first time that a presidential primary and a D.C. Council primary have been contested at the same time. That change to the calendar, and the lack of a Democratic challenger to President Barack Obama, are expected to keep turnout low, and voter turnout Tuesday morning was light. About 2 percent of registered voters in the district took advantage of early voting or requested absentee ballots.
In local races, five of the 12 incumbents on the D.C. Council are running for re-election, including former four-term mayor Marion Barry, who is expected to prevail over four challengers in Ward 8.
Democratic Councilmember Vincent Orange faces three challengers, two of them well-funded, in the Democratic primary for his at-large seat. Orange recently acknowledged receiving suspicious money-order donations when he won the seat last year in a special election. The contributions have been linked to businessman Jeffrey Thompson, whose home and office were searched by federal authorities as part of a broad investigation into campaign finance in the district.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser, a Ward 4 Democrat, faces five primary challengers, and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, also a Democrat, faces four. Democrat Jack Evans of Ward 2 is running unopposed.
WNEW and CBSDC.com will have live up-to-the-minute coverage of election returns as the polls close in DC, Maryland and Wisconsin on Tuesday.
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