Traditionally seen mostly as cash cow to fund campaigns that take place elsewhere, Connecticut this year is becoming an almost-prime time battleground for presidential candidates in both parties.
Generally, the state is “a little footnote after New York,” said University of Connecticut Professor Ron Schurin. But as the April 26 primary draw near, Connecticut is getting more attention than usual.
With presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle scrambling for every possible delegate, Connecticut’s relatively small numbers may have an outsized importance as the campaigns race toward their summer conventions.
“Wisconsin’s primary voters last week gave Connecticut voters surprising relevance,” said Scott McLean, political science professor at Quinnipiac University.
“Surely this was not the intention of the legislature when” it shifted the primary date later in the campaign, he said. “Still, we can be thankful that our primary will be more meaningful. “
State Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said he thinks there will be an increase in GOP registration – the deadline is April 19 – and more participation at the polls.
“Everyone within our party is excited to have a say in who the next president will be,” Romano said.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is trying to hang on to her lead against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose Wall Street-bashing campaign proved surprisingly durable and his appeal to younger voters undeniable.
It’s making for “an interesting race” in Connecticut, Schurin said. He said the state party’s leadership lined up solidly on Clinton’s side, “but that seems to be having very little effect” on much of the Democratic rank and file.
Schurin, a political science professor, said the Democrats are seeing “a philosophical gulf” between those who support Clinton and those backing Sanders. He said Sanders supporters “want to move very fast” in attacking some of the major problems they perceive in American society while Clinton loyalists are more satisfied with making incremental progress.
On the Republican side, front-runner Donald Trump is seeking a statewide sweep over competitors Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich, who held a town hall at noon Friday at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield County, hopes to pick up a win in the 4th Congressional District, a hotbed of moderate GOP voters who may balk at Trump.
While no other candidates have scheduled events in Connecticut yet, Clinton has opened offices in Hartford and New Britain, Sanders has one in Hartford, and Trump plans to follow suit with one of his own soon. New Day for America, a PAC, supporting Kasich has opened offices in Southington, Westbrook and Fairfield.
Mahen Gunaratna, spokesman for Clinton’s Connecticut campaign, said that Clinton’s volunteers “have been organizing their communities” since last year.
“With less than three weeks remaining until the Connecticut primary, our supporters are kicking into high gear, hosting phone banks and knocking on doors to turn out the vote,” he said. “Connecticut Democrats understands the stakes are high this election and we can’t afford to let the Republicans rip away the progress we’ve made under President Obama.”
McLean said, “We could see another setback here for Trump, or another win for Sanders. It is tempting to predict that Connecticut’s outcome will follow a pattern similar to the New York primary.”
But, he added, “with this year’s political merry-go-found, I have given up trying to predict what will happen next.”
Connecticut has 28 delegates to the Republican convention, three held by party officials, 10 awarded statewide and three each to the winners of each congressional district.
Democrats in Connecticut will have 71 convention delegates, 36 of them awarded by district, 12 statewide and 23 others.
When Clinton squared off against Obama in 2008, Connecticut’s primary proved to be hotly contested, with 51 percent of registered Democrats casting a ballot. Obama won a narrow victory that helped propel him to the White House.
The GOP primary in 2008 had a 37 percent turnout, with voters backing Arizona Sen. John McCain over a number of rivals. In 2012, 14 percent of Republicans turned out in a primary that overwhelmingly endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat Obama.
Only registered voters who have chosen a party can participate in the primary for that party. Unaffiliated voters have until Thursday, April 21 to register as a Republican or Democrat by mail or they can do in person until Monday, April 25 at their municipality’s registrar’s office.
Anyone can check the secretary of the state’s voter registration page to find out if they are currently registered as a Republican or Democrat and find out where they are supposed to vote on primary day. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26.