HAGERSTOWN, Md. — At first, it looks as if little has changed in this state since a couple of generations ago, when Johnny Unitas was still slinging footballs for the Colts.
The waitresses in working-class parts of Baltimore still call you "Hon," you can still get crab cakes that aren't loaded with too much mayo on the Eastern Shore and there seems to really be only one political party.
Maryland remains one of the nation's most Democratic states, where registration is 2 to 1 Democratic, and no Republican has been elected to the city council in politically dominant Baltimore since 1939.
There are rumblings, though, that the state is changing, and fast, changes that could have a deep impact on Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary.
Washington's less politically predictable suburbs now have more voters than Baltimore and its outskirts. Urban dwellers are moving further out into once-rural areas. And the biggest change of all: A black candidate like Barack Obama is no longer seen as simply a black candidate.
As a result, "Maryland should be Obama country," said Harry Basehart, co-director of the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University.
Republicans will also hold a primary, which Arizona Sen. John McCain is widely expected to win.
Among Democrats, a SurveyUSA poll taken Thursday and Friday showed Obama with a 71 to 18 percent lead over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton among the state's African-American voters, who should comprise about 40 percent of the state's electorate.
But among whites, Clinton only led by 2 points.
That's because Maryland, said Thomas Schaller, associate professor of political science at University of Maryland Baltimore County, has become a "wine track" state, similar to California, New Jersey and Connecticut, where incomes are high, people are well-educated and the electorate is less concerned about race. (He distinguishes Maryland from "beer track" states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.)
Tuesday could show just how "wine track" Maryland is.
If Clinton's going to win anywhere, it's the posher Washington suburbs, where lots of folks worked in her husband's administration, or the eastern and western outlands. And she should do well in whiter areas of Baltimore, western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
But there are signs of a looming Obama rout, and Hagerstown's mood suggests why. The longtime working class outpost about an hour west of Baltimore now has the look and feel of a suburb, complete with an outlet mall, big suburban homes that rise like phoenixes on patches of old farmland and a lot of commuters who ride the crowded train down to the big cities.
The Broad Axe restaurant on downtown Franklin Street has the look of old Hagerstown, dark and clubby, but its menu these days is largely Tex-Mex and its "beer of the month" sign (today's is Troegenator Double Bock, a Pennsylvania brew) hangs under a big picture of Winston Churchill.
Bartender Tammy Sword likes Clinton-"she's a little more prepared," Sword said-while Bryan Hale, a surveyor sitting at the bar, said, "Definitely Obama." Go around the place and the split is everywhere.
Go another hour west to Cumberland and people are also divided. Brian Grim, a young city council candidate, has an Obama sticker on his car and explains how the senator "represents something positive" and is not "politics as usual."
It doesn't always work. At the Democrat Club in Cumberland, a old-fashioned blue collar hangout, the women tend to like Clinton and the men like Obama.
"She knows what she's doing," said Debbie Beeman, a cleaning company employee. Nah, countered Buddy Red, "I don't think the country's ready for a woman."
A broader trend is evident here: Race used to matter in Maryland politics, but it rarely comes up in a state where it was "a private obsession no one likes to talk about," said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
As late as the mid-1960s, black empowerment was not widely accepted. Whites fled some Baltimore and Washington suburban neighborhoods seemingly overnight when "too many" blacks moved in.
Little by little, the mood, and the political demographics of the state, seem to be shifting. Baltimore city, where 64 percent of the population is black, elected Martin O'Malley (now the governor), who is white, as mayor in 1999. Predominantly white Montgomery County, where 16.8 percent of the population is black, elected African-American Isiah Leggett as its county executive in 2006.
In the past, places like Hagerstown would have been natural Clinton turf, but at the downtown the county Democratic headquarters, it's hard to find any Clinton literature or much Clinton enthusiasm.
Edye Rickard, a longtime city activist, is a Clinton fan: "I am woman, hear me roar," she laughed, but her friend Ed Branthaver, a retired clinical social worker, is going with Obama.
"Obama was against the Iraq war from the very beginning," he said. "But he doesn't have enough experience," Rickard countered. She argued that Clinton's health care program is badly needed; he replies that what's needed is a change in how Washington is run.
Pat Heck, the county Democratic chairman, listened to all this and was torn.
She vividly recalled how, in the late 1960s, she was denied an A in her college English class because the teacher would give only one A per class, and a man needed it more.
So she's sympathetic to what Clinton's endured. But she also sees Obama exciting a lot of people.
"We need to pull together and I like his message of hope. But Hillary Clinton is competent." Heck said. "I won't know for sure what I'm going to do until I go into the voting booth."
The very idea that a lot of people are torn between Clinton and Obama in places like this is the biggest evidence of all that times are changing-and the likely reason that Obama is poised to do so well Tuesday.