Connecticut’s presidential primary could move up by 4 weeks. Will it matter?
For years, Connecticut held its Republican and Democratic primaries early in the presidential nomination process, which gave the state more of a say in deciding which candidates made it to the general election.
The state’s nominating contests were usually held in March, but to have more influence over the wide-open presidential primaries in 2008, the Connecticut legislature approved moving up the date to Feb. 5 to join about two dozen other states to vote on the biggest primary day of the cycle, known as Super Tuesday.
But as the parties started discouraging states from holding primaries before early March and offered incentives to go later, the General Assembly voted to push back its primary to the last Tuesday in April for the 2012 election. And since then, the state has voted for presidential nominees in late April, with 2020 as the only exception because of pandemic-related delays.
Now, lawmakers and officials in both parties are once again seeking to go earlier in the primary season and looking to the legislature to approve the change during a special session next month. The proposed date change would not elevate Connecticut back to one of the early months but would move up the date by four weeks in 2024, from April 30 to April 2.
Some political observers argue an early April primary would benefit Connecticut more than its current date but would not ultimately be a “game changer,” according to Quinnipiac University political science professor Scott McLean. He said the state’s vote would carry more weight if it were held again in March — or even earlier.
More than two dozen states would still vote in primaries and caucuses before Connecticut, even if lawmakers agreed to move it up. But with a more unpredictable primary season — at least for Republicans — the state could still play a more outsized role, especially if the race is still largely undecided in early spring.
“Moving the primary earlier may have a small, positive impact on the amount of attention that Connecticut gets from candidates, but still Connecticut would be competing with four other states holding primaries on that date,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising.
“One positive impact is that Connecticut voters might have more choice by voting in early as opposed to late April,” said Ridout, who is also a professor of government at Washington State University. “By late April, the race may effectively be decided, and only one or two candidates may remain in the race.”
As of now, Connecticut is the only state with a primary currently scheduled for April 30. If it were to move up four weeks, it would share the primary day with nearby states like New York and Rhode Island as well as Wisconsin, a swing state, and Delaware, President Joe Biden’s home state.
The General Assembly is planning to hold a special session on either Sept. 26 or 27 to vote on legislation to change the date, which was first reported by Hearst Connecticut Media. Lawmakers failed to clear the bill before the end of the legislative session in June. The legislation unanimously passed the House but did not get a vote in the Senate.
Officials in both parties, however, were hoping to go even earlier in the 2024 primary calendar.
Last year, Democrats in the state tried to get the national party to name Connecticut as one of the new early primary states for February 2024 but lost out to five states including New Hampshire. Republicans also preferred to have the primary much sooner.
But Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo and Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto ultimately compromised on early April because of the differing rules of their national parties.
While Republicans have more flexibility to schedule their primaries after a few of the early states, national Democrats are more stringent around primary calendar order. If a state schedules its contest too early, it could risk losing delegates to the national convention or may not be eligible to receive “bonus” delegates.
“Neither one of us was looking to hurt the other one or the number of delegates either side got to the convention,” Proto said. “That’s why we kind of went to that first Tuesday in April.”
DiNardo said that by keeping the primary in April and not moving it to March, Connecticut Democrats will get 10 more delegates to go to the 2024 Democratic National Convention next summer in Chicago.
“I think it does help. It gets people more engaged and more excited,” DiNardo said about changing the primary date. “People see Connecticut as a blue state, at least federally, and to some degree, people make the assumption, ‘Oh, that’s a blue state, we don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time there.’ But it has been changing somewhat that people are coming more to the state to engage us.”
The date change, however, would be more relevant for Republicans in 2024. There are more than a dozen declared candidates running for the GOP nomination, while Biden faces much less competition for the Democratic nomination.
Proto sees an earlier primary as an economic boost for Connecticut — more candidates spending time in the state at events, booking hotels and advertising in the state’s media market. Connecticut currently draws many fewer campaign visits compared to other more competitive states, except when it comes to major donor events.
“As it is now being so late in the process, basically Connecticut becomes an ATM for the candidates. They come in, take money and leave,” Proto said. “If they’re going to come take our money, they might as well spend some of it here.”
Still, Proto said he hopes Connecticut could one day go back to a March primary. He also noted his interest in regionalized primaries where states in the same area all vote on the same day, which he argued would help with candidates’ travel.
Former President Donald Trump’s looming trials, however, could throw curveballs into the 2024 Republican primary and potentially place higher value on states with later contests.
After several indictments related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the mishandling of classified documents and hush money, Trump could go to trial in the middle of the primary season and right before the Connecticut primary, though his team is seeking to get at least one pushed past the 2024 election. Depending on the outcomes and developments, states that vote later could play a larger role if the field is still crowded or if Trump’s popularity shifts.
“It’ll be an interesting situation where we’ll be able to see if Trump can really dominate in a state like Connecticut with the Republican primary, and maybe it’ll be a sort of early warning signal for Republicans about Trump’s strength going into the convention and then going into the general,” McLean of Quinnipiac University said.
“Suppose for example that Trump is really challenged in Connecticut or even loses Connecticut,” he added, “it probably won’t affect the ultimate outcome very much, but it could give some of the Republican leadership a second thought about nominating Trump.”