By STEVE LeBLANC, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOSTON -- Massachusetts Republicans are hoping that a big win for former Gov. Mitt Romney in the state's presidential primary could put Massachusetts, normally a lock for Democrats, up for grabs in November.
Massachusetts is one of 10 states voting in the Super Tuesday contests. 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.
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.
The statewide telephone survey of 600 Massachusetts registered voters was conducted Feb. 11-15 by Suffolk University and WHDH-Boston and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
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.
"It seems clear that anyone who wants to take an honest look at his record as governor is going to see that he is a turnaround guy," Maginn said, adding that the party can't officially endorse any candidate.
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 by the Western New England University Polling Institute and The Republican newspaper of Springfield 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.
The telephone survey of 527 adults who said they are registered to vote in Massachusetts was conducted Feb. 23 - March 1 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Obama's lead over Romney in the survey is similar to his margin of victory in the 2008 presidential election in Massachusetts, when he defeated Republican John McCain 61 percent to 36 percent.
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.
One potential bright spot for Romney is the rise of "unenrolled" or independent voters who continue to outnumber enrolled Republican and Democratic voters in Massachusetts.
The most recent enrollment figures in Massachusetts shows the number of voters not enrolled in any party – so-called independent voters – has topped 52 percent, up from 2004 when slightly less than half of all Massachusetts voters were independent.
The bad news for Romney is that the number of registered GOP voters has continued to dwindle from nearly 13 percent in 2004 to just over 11 percent this year.
Democrats, who account for more than 37 of Massachusetts voters, have also seen their number dip by more than a full percentage point since 2004.