Bush departure opens field in CT for GOP presidential candidates

Former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush

Former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush at the 2014 Prescott Bush dinner

Washington – No GOP presidential candidate raised as much campaign money or made as many stops in Connecticut as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose departure from the race gives those remaining in the GOP field a better shot at the state’s delegates. Yet it’s not clear who will benefit.

Members of the state’s Republican power structure haven’t, for the most part, indicated who they will support, although recent political history in the state shows Connecticut Republicans favor mainstream candidates.

“The Connecticut Republican Party is an establishment-oriented party and likes establishment candidates,” said Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University.

Bush, the candidate considered to have the most establishment bona fides, quit the race last weekend

“The obvious guess is that the Bush money and the Bush support will go now to the other establishment candidate,” said University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin. He thinks that candidate is Rubio.

Advertising company president Edward Hershey of Greenwich gave the maximum of $5,400 to Bush’s campaign. His new favorite candidate for president?

“Rubio. Only one who can beat (Hillary) Clinton,” he said.

Bush may endorse Rubio, who was once the former governor’s political protégé  in Florida.

Rose said it will be hard for him to shake off his Tea Party roots, but Rubio could solidify himself as an establishment candidate if he wins Bush’s endorsement.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is introduced at the 2015 Prescott Bush dinner.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is introduced at the 2015 Prescott Bush dinner.

Other Bush supporters don’t yet have a second choice.

McKay Jimeson of Fairfield, a Pfizer executive who was once a Bush aide and donated to the Bush campaign hoped to vote for his former boss.

“Jeb consistently demonstrated he was the most substantive candidate with the leadership skills to be president of the United States,” he said. “Having watched his leadership first hand as one of his aides in the Florida governor’s office, I’m confident he would serve our country well.”

Jimeson said he won’t switch loyalties right away and wants to “give some time back to my family and reflect on this race. “

Whether Bush supporters in Connecticut will gravitate to Rubio or another candidates is a guess. It’s unclear which way the political winds are blowing in the state when it comes to presidential politics.

There has been no polling of presidential preferences among Republicans in Connecticut, except a straw poll held by the state Republican Party in January that required participants to pay $15. It was considered more of a fundraiser than an accurate political barometer.

The straw poll determined billionaire developer Donald Trump had the support of 35 percent of the participants, followed by Rubio with 18 percent and Cruz with 17 percent.

Ted Cruz campaigning in New Hampshire

Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons

Ted Cruz campaigning in New Hampshire

They may have participated in the straw poll, but most top Republicans in Connecticut haven’t endorsed a presidential candidate, including J.R. Romano, the head of the Connecticut Republican Party.

A “super-delegate” to the Republican National Convention this summer, he wants to remain neutral until after the April 26 presidential primary. Super-delegates are not selected on the basis of party primaries or caucuses, but because of their office. They can support any candidate.

“I think it would be inappropriate for me to put a finger on the scale,” Romano said.

The other two GOP super-delegates are National Committeeman John Frey, a state representative, and National Committeewoman Patricia Longo, who also have declined to back a candidate until after the state’s presidential primary, Romano said.

 The Trump phenomenon

Trump has taken most of the early GOP primaries and caucuses and is expected to do well in the mostly southern states whose primaries are on “Super Tuesday,” March. 1.

Schurin said the Trump phenomenon is keeping many rank and file GOP voters, and officials, from endorsing a candidate.

“They’re under the same kind of conundrum as the rest of the country,” Schurin said. Donald Trump seems outside the Connecticut GOP mainstream, according to Schurin, but “by April he may have the nomination wrapped up.”

Rose said “establishment Republicans are looking more and more desperate and unhappy.”

Donald Trump in Laconia, N.H., in July.

MICHAEL VADON / Creative Commons

Donald Trump in Laconia, N.H., in July.

The lack of presidential endorsements by leading Republicans in the state stands in stark contrast to the behavior of the state’s Democrats.

Gov. Dannel  P. Malloy and the seven members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are super-delegates to the Democratic National Convention. They, and other top Democrats in the state, were quick to endorse Clinton – some even before she announced her candidacy last April.

The governor and most of Connecticut’s federal lawmakers, campaigned for Clinton in New Hampshire, even though she was expected to take a drubbing there from Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There is no comparable activism on the GOP side, although Jerry Labriola, former head of the Connecticut Republican Party, is Rubio’s campaign chairman in the state.

The broad GOP field of five main candidates, and the likelihood that some will drop out before Connecticut’s primary, is also a factor keeping Connecticut Republicans from making endorsements.

Sherman First Selectman Clay Cope, a Republican running for the 5th District congressional seat, initially liked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But Walker dropped our very quickly and Cope has yet to pick another favorite.

“Like many of us, he has been disappointed in the focus on style versus substance, or personality versus  policy, in the debates,” said Cope campaign spokesman George Linkletter.

Max Maxwell, another Republican running for the 5th District seat in Congress, said he will continue to keep his mind open to the possibility of voting for any one of the candidates

“With about 60 days to go, I wonder what candidates will spend more time in Connecticut?” he asked.

The state is unlikely to be on many candidates’ list of campaign stops, or targeted much by political advertising. It’s considered a true-blue Democratic state when it comes to presidential elections.

Ben Carson campaigns in Phoenix in November

Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons

Ben Carson campaigns in Phoenix in November.

Sending 70 Democratic delegates and 28 Republican ones to the national party conventions in July, Connecticut is considered more important for raising campaign cash than political support. But in this tumultuous presidential election year, those delegates may count for something.

Besides Bush, other Republicans who’ve left the race include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former business executive Carly Fiorina and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

None had connections to Connecticut like Bush, who has family ties to the state and visited often, raising more than $1 million in campaign contributions in Connecticut, more than any other GOP candidate.

Rubio was the GOP candidate who came in second as far as fundraising in Connecticut, raising more than $450,000 in the state as of Dec. 31.

Rubio has also visited Connecticut, to raise money and to connect with state Republicans. Last June, Rubio was the keynote speaker at the Connecticut GOP’s Prescott Bush dinner.

But, if Trump keeps up his winning ways, there is no guarantee that Rubio, or any other GOP candidate, will remain in the race come Connecticut’s primary.

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