Get ready, devotees of Connecticut politics. You are about to experience a once-in-a-generation phenomenon — maybe even once-in-a-lifetime. Rather than simply viewing us as an ATM for campaign cash or, as one observer put it, “a little footnote after New York,” both parties are holding presidential primaries in our state that might actually mean something this year.
The last time I can recall anything close to that happening was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were squaring off for the Republican nomination and Sen. Ted Kennedy was mounting an aggressive challenge to incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
One could make the case that 2008 was an important year for both parties’ primaries in Connecticut as well. Eventual nominee Barack Obama pulled off a decisive win over Hillary Clinton on his way to victory in November. And of course, Republican John McCain made an 11th-hour visit to the Nutmeg State just before the primary but he had all but secured the nomination by winning most of the Super Tuesday contests earlier.
Now Connecticut has an opportunity to play a role — if not a decisive one — in the 2016 primary process. Neither frontrunner has sewn up the nomination yet, though with all due respect to the followers of Bernie Sanders, his hopes are looking slimmer with each passing week.
Sandwiched between New York and Massachusetts, Connecticut often follows those two states’ leads, in part because our demographics are similar. Hillary scored an one-point victory over Sanders in the Massachusetts Democratic primary last month — though they basically split the delegates. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Hillary up by nine points in Connecticut, down from an 11-point lead last fall.
At this point, I’d be shocked if Sanders pulled off a victory in Connecticut. He has done particularly well in caucus states, with their emphasis on grassroots organizing. And he has succeeded in states such as New Hampshire, where the primaries are open to unaffiliated voters, or in states with mostly white electorates.
But Connecticut, like New York, is the worst of all worlds for Sanders: increasingly diverse racially, a non-caucus state, and a primary system closed to all but those enrolled in their respective parties. Still, Hillary is taking no chances. She’s been spending a lot of time in the state, pouncing on the gun control issue that she sees as one of Sanders’ weak points.
On the Republican side, the recent Qpoll largely mirrors the outcome in New York. Trump has 48 percent of the Connecticut vote, Ohio Gov. John Kasich comes in second with 28 percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a distant third with 19 percent.
It was revealing that at a recent Trump rally at the Connecticut Convention Center, few prominent Republicans showed up and none have endorsed Trump. Unlike Trump in the GOP primary, Republican office seekers in Connecticut need the support of independents, women, and minorities in order to prevail in a blue state.
Trump has gone out of his way to offend just about anyone who isn’t a white male, which is probably why he polls best among white males.
So look for blowouts on Tuesday in Connecticut. And look for Bernie to drop out before the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July. His only hope at this point is to get the party’s superdelegates to switch their allegiance or hope that Hillary will be indicted over her rogue email server. Neither will happen.
The GOP nomination fight could be a nail-biter. If Trump has the required majority of delegates heading into the convention in Cleveland, as seems increasingly likely, the party elders will have to give him the nomination. But if he’s even just a few delegates shy, then all bets are off.
If it’s Trump vs. Clinton in the general, it will be anything but a nail-biter. It will be a blowout, but not one of McGovern or Mondale proportions. Trump will still get several of the states in the deep south and maybe one or two in the Rocky Mountains. Then watch out for the down ticket. With Trump at the top of the ticket, along with his 70 percent disapprovals among women, the fate of the Senate, and perhaps even the House, will hang in the balance.
It could be a very ugly night for Republicans everywhere.
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