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Biden and Trump easily win CT presidential primaries

Wearing a keffiyeh over his shoulders, CT Palestine Solidarity Coalition organizer Nigel Harris (center) hands passerby Marianne Messina a flyer encouraging voters to choose “uncommitted” on their ballots to protest against Joe Biden’s Gaza policy and voice their dissent to “Israel’s occupation, siege, and slaughter of Palestinians.” (Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public)
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Wearing a keffiyeh over his shoulders, CT Palestine Solidarity Coalition organizer Nigel Harris (center) hands passerby Marianne Messina a flyer encouraging voters to choose “uncommitted” on their ballots to protest against Joe Biden’s Gaza policy and voice their dissent to “Israel’s occupation, siege, and slaughter of Palestinians.”

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump easily won Connecticut's primaries.

Tuesday's outcome, while hardly surprising, offers clues about enthusiasm among base voters for the upcoming 2020 rematch that has left a majority of Americans underwhelmed.

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Connecticut had multiple candidates on the ballot, but it also offered voters the opportunity to vote for “uncommitted.” More than 11% of Democratic voters chose "uncommitted." Biden has faced opposition from activists nationally and in Connecticut who are encouraging Democrats to vote against him over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Meanwhile, about 5% of Republican voters chose "uncommitted," while 14% chose Nikki Haley, who recently ended her presidential campaign.

Bristol resident Amy Harris was outside a voting place at the Hartford Public Library on Tuesday handing out leaflets that urged people to vote uncommitted. She said it’s a way of expressing opposition to Biden's military support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

"One just has to be a breathing human to understand the incredible suffering there," Harris said. "People just should not be doing this to other people ... slaughtering, starving. One must not have a moral compass, whatsoever, not to understand how wrong this is."

Turnout was relatively low, Connecticut Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said Tuesday afternoon.

"This isn't a competitive primary," she said. "So a lot of people have been voting for different reasons. Some people believe it’s important to vote in every election, as I do; some wanted to be a part of history."

New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin also held primaries Tuesday.

At one polling place, a stark divide

At a voting place in Berlin, Connecticut, Jesse Cohen said he supports the Republicans, while his wife votes for the Democrats.

Sometimes, he said, he's still trying to figure all that out.

"I almost got my wife," Cohen said, "until the Republicans got involved with Roe vs. Wade."

"I get it. It's a hard one to defend," he said. "They should have just left it alone. So I just don't even bring it up."

He and his wife both support each other going to the polls, but Cohen said people should be able to talk about issues without getting angry.

At Willard Elementary School in Berlin, there was a stark divide between some members of the two parties.

Democrat Donna Barnett said Biden is a good man.

"Oh, I am not a Trump supporter. He's scary. The country will be in an awful position if he gets in again," Barnett said.

But Republican Sharon Gerdis said the country can't stand another four years of Biden.

"I don't think he has the capacity or wherewithal to know what he's doing," Gerdis said.

Early voting comes to CT

While residents headed to the polls Tuesday, thousands of people in the state had already cast their ballot in-person through early voting.

About 18,000 of the state's 1.2 million registered Democrats and Republicans cast their ballots through early voting, according to the Secretary of the State.

The 2024 presidential primary marked the first time Connecticut has held early voting under the new state law that took effect this year. Connecticut was one of the last states to allow in-person early voting nationwide.

With nominations locked, does CT's primary matter?

If a presidential primary occurs after the candidates for the office have already been determined, then is that primary really worth having?

"I do think the primaries are important," Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto said. “It's important for people to be able to express their opinion."

Connecticut Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo agrees.

“I think what it does is it gives parties the opportunity to really get a firsthand look at what their rank and file is thinking about and how they feel about things,” DiNardo said. “I really don't have a problem with having the primary, maybe just because I'm so confident that Biden will easily win.”

Despite Biden's victory, a movement of "uncommitted" voters has kept him from bigger wins in other states.

'Uncommitted' voters cut into Biden's victory margins nationwide

The "uncommitted" movement has spread to several states and raised more questions about whether a small but significant number of Democrats angry at Biden might abandon him in November.

“We've seen around the country a number of uncommitted votes that are being cast in a Democratic primary, with an incumbent Democrat[ic] president on the ballot,” Proto said.

A week after 101,000 Michigan voters chose “uncommitted” on their ballots, so did roughly 263,000 voters in the five Super Tuesday states where similar ballot options were available. Minnesota, which had the most organized effort outside of Michigan, saw one in five Democratic voters mark the “uncommitted” option, a higher percentage than the 13% who voted uncommitted in Michigan.

Despite the wave spreading to other states, DiNardo said the uncommitted vote is a useful gauge of voter opinion.

“I think having uncommitted is important,” DiNardo said. “So we can see how many people out there are really uncommitted to our candidate. I think it's been a helpful tool for us.”

Primaries helpful in other ways

Connecticut’s presidential primaries are useful in other ways, DiNardo said.

The primary chooses not just candidates, but also convention delegates.

"The presidential candidate that wins (in this case, Joe Biden), those (Biden supporters) are the delegates that get to go,” DiNardo said. “The Connecticut Democratic delegates, I think, are just as important in the final count as any other state.”

The presidential primary also can help candidates down ballot from the presidential race, she said.

"We have the data [about] who actually came out and who didn't come out,” DiNardo said. “So that's important, particularly for down-ballot people to make sure that we're getting people to come out and vote in the election."

CT's primary is now earlier

Both Proto and DiNardo agree that the General Assembly’s decision to move up the date of Connecticut’s presidential primary was important.

The date was moved from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday, which this year, is April 2.

“Both Nancy DiNardo and I testified together to the Connecticut legislature asking him to change the primary date. And they did,” Proto said. “I would like to see it even earlier. I would hope that they might take a look at it for 2028, particularly given the fact that in 2028, both parties will have open presidential primaries."

Proto said he expects the 2028 race to be a "free for all" for both Republicans and Democrats.

"I think Connecticut would be in a much better position if they were earlier in that process than later," he said.

Should primaries be regional?

Proto has an idea of how presidential primaries nationwide might be more effective in choosing candidates: Make the primaries based on regions instead of states.

"When you look at the Northeast, and you can define that wherever you want. But let's just say Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England, there's a very different political philosophy and political understanding of voters on both sides than say, in the Southwest, or the Southeast, or the Northwest, or in the middle states — the Rust Belt, the Iron Belt, the Bible Belt," he said.

Holding primaries regionally allows people to "get a better idea of where the country is," Proto said.

While intrigued with that idea, DiNardo said the problem would be getting individual states to agree to do something the Democratic National Committee currently allows them to do anyway.

“In the DNC, one of the rules is if you do a primary with two other states that you're connected to, like if we did New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts, and then if New York was connected to Pennsylvania, we get more delegates to go to the convention,” DiNardo said. "I don't see it happening a whole lot."

"States are looking at it from their own perspective," she said. "I don't know if they would see an advantage to doing that."

Connecticut Public's Michayla Savitt, Frankie Graziano and The Associated Press contributed to this report, which has been updated.

Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.
John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.
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