No one is sure if Donald J. Trump is ready to point to a choice for U.S. attorney. Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announces the candidates qualified for the presidential primary in Connecticut. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Connecticut’s secretary of the state said Friday that Republicans will have a choice of at least three candidates in a presidential primary on April 28, but the party’s state chairman asserted that the GOP doesn’t want one and might go to court to stop it.

President Donald J. Trump, who won 85.6% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary this week, will be contested in Connecticut by William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, and a former Democratic presidential candidate, Rocky De La Fuente.

Democrats making the cut: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren. Anyone can opt out by notifying the state no later than March 23.

Actual ballot order will be determined by lot on March 24.

State law required Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to announce the list of candidates precisely at 10 a.m. on Friday, the 74th day preceding the April 28th primary.

The secretary of the state decides who makes the ballot based on a low bar set in state law: A candidate must be “generally and seriously advocated or recognized according to reports in the national or state news media.”

Guided by that law, Merrill said, she opts for access.

“We don’t make any determination requiring any measure of viability, or whether or not someone is going to win,” Merrill said. “That is not the measure we use.”

J.R. Romano, the state Republican chairman, said Merrill is imposing a primary on a Republican Party that doesn’t want one, and she did so without consulting him, a snub he called petty.

“I don’t think she did her due diligence,” Romano said. “We are actually looking at challenging it.”

Any court action would be part of a larger legal challenge to election laws that the GOP already was considering. Romano said he believes that Connecticut overreaches with laws that dictate how candidates for state and local office are nominated,  infringing on prerogatives that belong to political parties. He was uncertain if a lawsuit could be ready in to time challenge to challenge the April primary.

Nothing in state law suggests the secretary of the state should consult with party leaders, make a judgement about the viability of candidates, or the consider the cost to the towns of printing ballots for a primary challenge of a sitting president.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano speaking at a. Trump  rally in Fairfield in 2016. Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano speaking at a. Trump  rally in Fairfield in 2016. Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org

“What J.R. calls pettiness, we call democracy,” said Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill. “Our office followed both the letter and spirit of the law, and let the voters decide.”

 Anyone paying moderate attention to the campaign will recognize the eight Democrats placed on the ballot by Merrill. Another path to the ballot is gathering signatures from one percent of the party’s enrollment.

No one is suggesting the Trump’s renomination is in jeopardy. But should Republican challengers be allowed to try? And should Republican voters not enamored with the president be afforded the opportunity to signify that in a primary?

Romano said the answer is no. Merrill says state law indicates otherwise.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy Wyman said she was puzzled by Romano’s objections.

“J.R. makes no sense. Making decisions about how to run Connecticut’s elections is exactly Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s job. We are proud of our cities and their Democratic leaders,” Wyman said. ” As one party chair to another, J.R. should take care of whatever issues Republicans are having, and not expect others to solve his problems.”

They may have a chance to chat on March 24. It is Merrill’s intention to invite the state party chairs to her office to draw the lots for ballot order, as she did four years ago. But Romano said he would decline.

Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is offering himself as the leading alternative for GOP voters who cannot abide a second Trump term. De La Fuente is making his second run, but his first as a Republican. 

Weld finished second in the Granite State’s crowded primary with 9.1%. De La Fuente garnered 146 votes, good enough to finish ninth with one-tenth of one percent.

Ballot access in New Hampshire is purchased by paying a $1,000 filing fee. (Mark Stewart Greenstein of West Hartford, who also ran for governor in 2018, was the first to sign up for the New Hampshire primary in 2016 primary and again in 2020.) He won fewer than 50 votes each time.

Four years ago, De La Fuente petitioned his way onto the Democratic ballot in Connecticut. He lives in California, but De La Fuente also has run in primaries for the U.S Senate in nine states. He went 0-for-9, hitting a high-water mark of 12.3% in a two-way R.I. primary.

By Merrill’s reckoning, De La Fuente has attracted sufficient press coverage to qualify in Connecticut this year. Besides, he has a habit of suing for access. (He won a suit against Connecticut years ago over its requirement that only state residents circulate his petitions.)

“He is a very persistent candidate,” Merrill said.

Connecticut is one of six states participating in what is variously dubbed the I-95 or Acela primary on the eastern seaboard. The others are Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Trump won a four-way Connecticut primary in 2016 with 123,523 votes. John Kasich, then the governor of Ohio, was second with 60,522. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ben Carson also were on the ballot.

Hillary Clinton beat Sanders in a three-way race, 170,045 to 152,379. De La Fuente was third with 960.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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9 Comments

  1. Well, this is interesting. Apparently all that is required to get on the primary ballot is that “A candidate must be ‘generally and seriously advocated or recognized according to reports in the national or state news media.'” William Weld, I can understand. I have heard of him, and I knew that he was challenging Trump. But this other guy? Rocky De La Fuente? Never heard of him before today.

  2. Will the secretary of state office be reimbursing the towns for the cost of something the party doesn’t want nor need? This is another example of government out of control.

    1. It’s the Republican Party leadership that doesn’t want a primary. The only actual Republican challenger to Trump (William Weld) likely has a snowball’s chance, but still… has anybody asked actual Republican VOTERS? There are many registered Republicans who do not support Trump. Shouldn’t they have a choice — and a voice?

      1. Dear NoNonsense,
        I’m sure that is why the Democrat Party Black Balled Bernie Sanders in 2016. They care not to be fair and just, they would rather rig elections so they can win.

      2. Dear John Doe,
        I understand the point you are making about the Democratic Party supporting Clinton over Sanders. But at least Sanders was on every single primary ballot, so Democratic voters had a choice.

      3. Dear NoNonsense,
        If you truly believe the DNC and Democrat Party gave Sen Sanders a fair deal. Please contact me. I have a bridge for sale.

      4. John Doe, please reread my comment. Nowhere did I say that the DNC gave Sanders a fair deal. My point is that despite the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, Sanders was on the primary ballot in every US state and territory, so Democratic voters had a choice other than Clinton. I don’t know why the CT Republican Party doesn’t want Republican voters to have a choice other than Trump in a primary this year.

  3. This is indeed nothing more then a misuse of the power that the democrats wield in Connecticut. Advocating that some guy named Rocky De la whatever (a democrat) is a legitimate republican candidate is at best, farcical. CT democrats are once again touting the right of the voter to decide who they wish to vote for and claim the process must be protected… (well, at least when it suits them). BTW… what’s going on with the UNFINISHED Young/Feehan “state rep” election down in Stratford??? You know… the one where young won by 13 votes BUT there were 76 votes that were NEVER counted because of supplying the wrong ballot at the polls. When it was obvious that the Republican WOULD BE the winner if these votes were counted accurately, the CT democratic party as a whole simply shut the process down and seated their boy.
    MY point… CT democrats are hypocrites!!!

  4. Is there an Attorney out there who is a Constitutional Law Expert, willing to take on the State of Connecticut Govenment? We need to find a way to use the law to shut down this continued abuse of power. There is no better way for a strong, capable Constitutional Attoney to gain National Recognition, than to take head on the Kabal that is our State of Connecticut Government.

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