By Victor Zapana/Staff Reporter 

Usually rendered irrelevant by its late primary date, Connecticut is poised this year to finally make a difference in the presidential nominating contests as one of 24 states voting on the Feb. 5 “Super-Duper Tuesday” — and local leaders are noticing.

Most local officials who have publicly endorsed candidates, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., six aldermen and state Representative Martin Looney, are working to use their influence on behalf of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

But the numerous endorsements — both in strongly worded press statements and in quiet attendance at an Obama event at Yale’s Afro-American Cultural House on Saturday — have raised questions among Connecticut pollsters about whether that support will influence Democratic voters, who seem to be leaning toward New York Senator Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.

This Connecticut primary will be more important than many in recent years, New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chair Susie Voigt said, because the election is no longer being held in March, toward the tail end of the primary season. She said she expects more voters than in recent years to flock to the polls this year.

Since Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd’s departure from the race following an unimpressive showing in the Iowa caucuses, at least eight Connecticut and New Haven officials have come out publicly for Obama. The News has found only one New Haven official who has publicly endorsed another candidate — New Haven state Representative William Dyson, who is backing Clinton.

Five of the six officials interviewed who had officially endorsed Obama said their interest in the Illinois senator stemmed originally from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

In a Jan. 7 press statement, DeStefano, who originally endorsed Dodd, talked of his excitement about Obama’s “optimism.”

“He’d be an absolutely dynamic partner for places like New Haven and the rest of the nation,” he said in the statement.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08, Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead and Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez endorsed Obama on Jan. 10, two days after he lost to Clinton in the New Hampshire primaries. Rodriguez said the endorsement was planned to occur before representatives from the Democratic presidential candidates come to New Haven to meet with the Democratic Town Committee tomorrow night.

Morehead and Calder, who both represent areas with large Yale student populations, reflect the Yale fervor for Obama.

Obama was the top choice of the 1,833 Yale students who participated in a recent Yale Daily News poll — he registered 26.4 percent support, compared to 12.1 percent for Clinton. But 42.3 percent of students said they were still undecided about which candidate to support.

Some Connecticut leaders, like Vice President of the Connecticut Democratic Party and North Haven state Representative Steve Fontana, have been vocal in their support for Obama. But he said his endorsement will not reflect that of the constituency he represents. Some leaders, such as Voight, do not see their groups to endorse a candidate soon because they respect all of the candidates.

The most recent Quinnipiac poll of Connecticut voters, released in early November, suggested Clinton has a huge advantage in the Nutmeg State. Clinton, who had the backing of 45 percent of the 385 Democratic voters who participated in the poll, had more than double the support of Obama, who garnered 19 percent. Clinton has been the lead candidate in the four polls the program has run since Feb. 19, 2007.

Several aldermen said they think endorsements from city legislative leaders are mostly irrelevant.

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield of Ward 29 put it bluntly: “I can’t image anyone would care.”

But Rodriguez said he thinks that because Connecticut’s primary comes amidst a close nominating fight, aldermen have “an opportunity and responsibility” to use their endorsements to encourage voter registration. He said he, Morehead and Calder agreed to make a “freshman aldermen” endorsement of Obama in order to “make an impact on the New Haven community.”