The typical presidential election cycle runs like this: After early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, one candidate pulls ahead of the pack and gains an insurmountable delegate lead after rivals drop out. The nomination is wrapped up sometime in early spring — primaries in April, May and June are purely perfunctory.
But not this year. This cycle is unlike any other, with the outcomes of both the Democratic and Republican primary races still in flux. As a result, Connecticut — with its primary on the comparatively late date of April 26, after 35 states have already voted — matters. Candidates have thus come to Connecticut to seriously campaign, and in doing so have adopted a local flavor, tailoring their pitches and spiels to the voters of the Nutmeg State. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the first candidate to bring his campaign to Connecticut, closely followed by businessman Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the only candidate to skip Connecticut.
The most recent polling for the Republican race shows Trump with 59 percent of the vote, a commanding lead over his two rivals. Clinton and Sanders, meanwhile, are locked in a virtual tie, with Clinton boasting 48 percent and Sanders 46.
In Hartford earlier this month, Trump discussed Connecticut’s economic malaise, pinning his protectionist message on the resulting discontent.
“The economy of the state of Connecticut has experienced absolute devastation about manufacturing,” Trump said in the Connecticut Convention Center. “And I don’t need statistics to know that.”
Connecticut is fertile territory for Trump’s protectionist message, which resonates well in the working-class cities he has visited — Hartford, Bridgeport and, above all, Waterbury, which has endured a prolonged economic downturn since manufacturing left the Naugatuck Valley after its postwar zenith. There, appeals against free trade agreements — especially NAFTA — meet a receptive audience.
And, of course, Trump has emphasized his local ties in language that will be familiar to all who have followed his campaign over the last year.
“I have lots of friends in Connecticut,” Trump told the rally in Hartford. “I’ve lived in Connecticut. I love Connecticut — except your insurance companies, they always charge me too much.”
Meanwhile, in the Democratic camp, Clinton — the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination — has highlighted her ties to the Elm City, where she lived for four years in the 1970s and for which she said she holds a “particular affection.” For the first three of those years, she attended Yale Law School; in the fourth, she worked at the Yale Child Study Center, helping doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital treat victims of child abuse and prevent such abuse from spreading.
Each time candidates have come, they have been accompanied by local dignitaries — party officials, state legislators or representatives to Congress. Clinton has boasted the highest-profile entourage, holding a recent fundraiser in Stamford with Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation.
Clinton campaigned alongside Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democrat who represents the New Haven area in Congress. In another nod to New Haven, Clinton noted that she had campaigned with DeLauro’s mother, Luisa DeLauro, at Sally’s Apizza in Wooster Square during her husband Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 bid for the presidency in 1992.
Speaking to working families in Orangeside On Temple Saturday, Clinton praised the progress Connecticut has made in pioneering policies like paid family leave and public sector retirement plans.
“I’m a big believer in the states being the laboratories of democracy,” Clinton said in response to remarks from State Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, at Orangeside. “We have to come up with some new approaches to help people save for retirement. So I’m really interested to see anything that you’re doing here in Connecticut.”
When Clinton hosted an event in Hartford last Thursday, the topic was gun control, an issue that has had particular relevance to Connecticut since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre that left 26 dead. Joining her in Hartford was Malloy, one of her highest-profile surrogates and a fervent advocate of gun control. Clinton was also accompanied by Erica Smegielski, whose mother was killed in the Sandy Hook shootings.
Other candidates have made different local appeals. Speaking at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield earlier this month, Kasich referenced the opioid epidemic that has swept through Connecticut and New England over the last year, encouraging attendees — mostly college students — to do what they can to stop their friends from using drugs.
Kasich also rallied against Connecticut’s high rate of income tax — which, he argued, bears much of the blame for Connecticut’s poorly performing economy and the highly public relocation of General Electric’s headquarters to Boston in January 2016.
“We’re in Connecticut, isn’t that interesting?” Kasich said. “I think the income tax is through the roof. And if I hear about another company that’s threatening to leave Connecticut … the proof’s in the pudding.”
The opioid epidemic provided material for Sanders, too, whose home state has suffered greatly from heroin overdoses. In his Sunday rally on the New Haven Green — which drew a crowd of 14,000 — Sanders discussed opiate use among a myriad of other issues, including family leave, income inequality and campaign-finance reform. Sanders used the issue of the opiate epidemic to call for treating drug addiction as a health issue, not a crime, and for marijuana to be removed from the list of federal Schedule I drugs — which have no currently federally recognized medical use.
In an audacious move from a politician vying for the Democratic nomination, Sanders had harsh words for Malloy. Sanders urged Malloy to restore millions of dollars in funding to mental health services that Malloy’s February budget proposals have cut.
Meanwhile, Yale student groups have spent the last several weeks encouraging voter participation, both on-campus and off. Student groups backing Clinton and Sanders have each conducted outreach in the state over the last few months, from registering voters to phone banking.
Yale Students for Hillary supported an event held at Wilbur Cross High School by Bill Clinton and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, on Monday evening, and intend to phone bank today.
Last weekend, members of the organization participated in get-out-the-vote efforts in New Haven organized by the Clinton campaign, according to Yale Students for Hillary Co-President Delaney Herndon ’17. Previously, the group hosted a phone bank on April 6 with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71.
Adam Gerard ’17, Yale Students for Hillary vice president, underscored that members of the group have engaged not only with Yale students in these efforts but also with the New Haven community at large. Yale Students for Bernie Co-Founder and Co-Chair Matthew Massie ’17 said the group has arranged transportation for students to their polling places.
Although the Yale College Democrats do not endorse a candidate until the general election, the Dems have conducted a number of voter registration drives this semester, according to Dems Election Coordinator John Kauffman ’18.
“Regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, Dems is excited to campaign for a highly qualified, progressive presidential nominee against any of the current right-wing Republican front-runners,” Kauffman told the News.
Michelle Liu contributed reporting.