BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts voters are nominating candidates in three presidential primary contests Tuesday, but the most closely watched race is on the Republican ballot.
Republicans are hoping that a big Super Tuesday win in the state for former Gov. Mitt Romney could put Massachusetts, normally a lock for Democrats, up for grabs in November.
Polls show Romney with a commanding lead among GOP primary voters here. His Republican challengers — Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich — have put little money or effort into the state.
Related: Super Tuesday: What’s at Stake?
But those same polls show Romney trailing President Barack Obama by double digits in a state that has traditionally shunned Republican presidential candidates.
Massachusetts Republicans are hoping that Romney will be able to buck that trend by reeling in voters in the state he governed for four years.
“He’ll put Massachusetts in play,” said state Republican Party Chairman Bob Maginn.
Regardless of what happens in November, Massachusetts and the bulk of its 41 delegates should be an easy victory for Romney in the primary.
Massachusetts is not a winner-take-all state. Party rules require that a candidate receive at least 15 percent of the vote in any of the state’s nine new congressional districts to receive any delegates.
Romney has spent little time in Massachusetts but is returning Tuesday to cast his ballot.
Romney will be voting at a senior center in Belmont. Romney and his wife Ann own a condominium in the Boston suburb, where the couple raised their family. They sold the family’s house in 2009.
Romney is then planning to address supporters Tuesday night at the Westin Copley Place hotel in Boston as the Super Tuesday results pour in.
One recent poll showed Romney drawing support from about 64 percent of the GOP primary voters in Massachusetts compared to Santorum with 16 percent, Paul with 7 percent, Gingrich with 6 percent and 6 percent undecided.
Even though Obama is uncontested on the primary ballot, Massachusetts Democrats are hoping to use Tuesday’s contest to build support for the general election.
Obama campaign officials say volunteers have been holding phone banks, canvassing neighborhoods and hosting house parties to reach out to voters as they work to build their campaign infrastructure for November.
Massachusetts Democrats are also using the primary as a chance to take a whack or two at Romney.
“When he ran for governor 10 years ago he made the same hollow promises that his business background would translate into job growth,” Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said Monday. “Mitt Romney wasn’t very good at generating jobs and he didn’t work very hard at it.”
Republicans see Romney’s record as governor as a core strength for the candidate.
“I think most people who take a look at his record would say he came into a state with a $3 billion deficit, turned it around to the tune of $5 billion and left us with a $2 billion rainy day fund,” said Maginn.
Despite his deep ties to his adopted state, Romney has a tough climb to victory in November. The last Republican presidential candidate to win Massachusetts was Ronald Reagan.
Another recent poll found Romney trailing Obama in a head-to-head matchup with Obama receiving the support of 60 percent of voters compared to 36 percent for Romney.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin is predicting a turnout of between 300,000 and 400,000 on the Republican side and less than 200,000 for the uncontested Democratic ballot.
In Massachusetts only enrolled and independent voters can cast votes in each party’s ballot. Registered Democrats cannot cross lines and vote in the Republican primary.
Polls close at 8 p.m.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.