Connecticut’s not the caboose of the primary calendar, but we’re usually near enough to the back of the train that by the time the campaigns get around to us it’s all but over. But this year, to everyone’s amazement, our votes actually count for something!
Except that they kind of don’t.
Let’s deal with the actual primary, first. A poll came out on Wednesday from Quinnipiac University, and the front-runners are doing pretty well. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a modest lead of 51-42 percent over Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, but Donald Trump is running away with this thing among Republicans — beating nearest rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, by 20 percentage points. Sen. Ted Cruz is an afterthought in third place.
Sanders fans will probably point out that their guy has closed what was a somewhat larger gap in an October poll, and that’s true. But closing an 18 point gap to nine isn’t the same thing as actually catching up, and if this poll is accurate then Bernie is doing much worse than he should be.
Connecticut seems like it should be a “feelin’ the Bern” sort of place. Democrats in the state have supported insurgent candidates like the 2006 version of Ned Lamont and Barack Obama, and we still skew whiter and wealthier than the country as a whole. Sanders also has a geographic advantage as a New England senator with roots in New York City.
And yet, Sanders is losing among every age group except for 18-34, and he is losing every racial group — whites included. He is losing women by 17 points, while only winning men by five. What gives?
Part of this is that the liberal coalition that delivered Democratic primary wins for Lamont and Obama isn’t what it used to be. But it’s also true that Sanders has never managed to seriously broaden his appeal beyond an influential but narrow segment of the electorate — young, white men. His core message about the evils of big corporations and banks feels out of date to me: Bernie is an Occupy Wall St. candidate in a Black Lives Matter era.
Hillary Clinton, for all her faults, has been weathering attacks and building ties to important constituencies for decades. Connecticut broke for Obama by a hair in 2008, but should be a comfortable win for Clinton in 2016.
And then . . . there’s Donald Trump.
If this poll is to be believed, Trump is going to win big here on Tuesday. He’ll pick up more delegates, his utterly incompetent rivals will fall further behind, and we’ll get a little closer to the Rubicon of the Republican National Convention.
I don’t know. Better political minds than I have tried and failed to understand why so many people are willing to go to rallies and punch protesters for this guy, and the best explanation I can come up with is that they think it’s funny.
It’s something like this: Ha ha, we’re showing those liberals! Trump tells it like it is and libs hate it! They’re all scared of him! This is great!
I’ve seen this before. It’s a whisker-thin layer of bravado and “humor” overlaying a deep, deep reservoir of anxiety. That’s why Trump rallies are such tense places, and why whatever coalition of voters he’s putting together is very, very dangerous.
I wish more Republicans would turn their backs on Trump, but I know that’s not going to happen. They’re going to hand another win to a lying, opportunistic blowhard on Tuesday, and all most of us can do is shrug.
But hey, at least we mattered this year, right? That has to count for something!
Well . . . not really. Bernie Sanders is still campaigning, true, but after losing New York by such a wide margin he has no realistic path to the nomination. He hasn’t had one since he lost the South. This race ended in February, but no one has bothered to tell Sanders that. Barring catastrophe or indictment, Hillary Clinton will be the nominee.
And on the Republican side there is no one who can actually catch Trump. All they can do is try to grab enough delegates to deny him the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. Connecticut’s handful of Republican delegates won’t make a difference one way or another.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: our presidential nominating system is hopeless. We need a new one, and we needed it decades ago. But in the meantime, at least we’re getting visits from candidates and a brief, welcome feeling of relevance.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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