Connecticut doesn’t get much attention when it comes to Presidential politics, so its no surprise that the candidates vying for the Republican Presidential nomination haven’t spent much time or money in the state. As the focus on that contest intensifies, however, considering which GOP contender could win Connecticut is one way to identify who should be the party’s nominee.
Republican Presidential candidates used to find receptive crowds in Connecticut. President Richard Nixon won the state’s eight electoral votes, posting a convincing 19 percent margin of victory over George McGovern in 1972. Four years later and just two years beyond Watergate, Gerald Ford still won 52 percent of the vote in 1976, and conservative hero Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent President Carter in 1980 with a 10 percent margin of victory. Not only did Reagan expand his margin to 22 percent in 1984, the Reagan Landslide also carried state Republicans to their first majority in the CT House of Representatives since 1974. The GOP winning streak continued in 1988 as the state voted for George H.W. Bush.
All that seems like ancient history though. The Democratic margin of victory has grown since 1992, culminating with President Obama’s 22 percent trouncing of John McCain in 2008. Equally disheartening for Republicans is the state’s continuing support of the President even though much of the rest of the country has given up on him. According to recent polling data by Gallup, Connecticut is the most Pro-Obama state in the union with a 60 percent approval rating. That’s 6 percent better than Mr. Obama’s home state of Illinois and a whopping 33 percent better than Idaho, Obama’s worst, where the President is supported by just 27 percent of Idahoans.
Minnesota Congresswoman and winner of the recent Iowa Straw Poll Michelle Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, and Texas Governor Rick Perry all hold socially conservative views that seem unlikely to play well in a state that legalized gay marriage without a court ruling and was the origination point for the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which laid the groundwork for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that effectively legalized abortion in the U.S.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s staunch libertarian views have helped him generate a small but ardent following around the country. But Mr. Paul mustered just 4 percent in the 2008 CTGOP primary and doesn’t seem likely to have broader appeal in a general election. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has carved out a niche as an ideas man and policy wonk but his rocky years as Speaker of the House may make it difficult for him to attract support from independents and crossover Democrats.
That leaves former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Huntsman is fresh off an assignment as President Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to China and favors civil unions for gay couples (though opposes gay marriage), which are both problematic in the GOP primary but potential pluses in the general election. His campaign has been lackluster to date however and has been beset by internal chaos.
Despite having been Governor in next-door Massachusetts, Mitt Romney finished behind John McCain in the 2008 CT primary, receiving 33 percent of the vote. His business background and expertise on economic issues offer a stark contrast to the economic record of President Obama. But perhaps a gauge of the strength of his candidacy is the reaction to it: other candidates keep getting in the race.
It’s true that Republicans can win the Presidency without Connecticut. But in politics, as in life, the way you accomplish tasks is often as important as the accomplishment itself. Ronald Reagan didn’t achieve greatness simply by winning the Presidency twice – fourteen Presidents have done that. It was the way he did it, winning 49 states amid the most convincing Presidential victory since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. If the GOP wants to elect the next great Republican President, they might start thinking about how to win in Connecticut.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com