Washington – Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are scrupulously avoiding showing favoritism for any of their party’s candidates for the White House, and they have their reasons.
“I would support any of the leading presidential candidates over Donald Trump, but I am not endorsing anyone at this time,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
In both the 2008 and 2016 campaigns, Connecticut lawmakers had picked their favorite Democratic candidate for the White House long before this time in the cycle.
Blumenthal, for instance, endorsed Hillary Clinton, his Yale Law School classmate, in June of 2014, more than two years before the November 2016 election. And Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, endorsed Clinton in June 2015, more than a year before election day.
But this cycle is rolling out very differently.
“[Connecticut lawmakers] have nothing to gain,” said University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin. If they pick one candidate to endorse, he said, constituents who support someone else will be unhappy.
“It would alienate people in their districts, and why would they want to do that?” Schurin asked.
The unusual number of candidates still running for the nomination also complicates the state delegation’s decision. At this point in the 2016 race – 251 days out – there were only two Democratic candidates, Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., left running. The possibility of a lawmaker throwing his or her support behind someone who will ultimately drop out is still very real.
That has happened to the only member of the delegation to have supported a candidate.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, was an early supporter of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Saying she could not raise enough money to continue her campaign, Harris dropped out in early December, and Hayes is scrutinizing the field that remains.
There’s also a danger in picking a losing candidate.
“If they endorse the wrong horse, the winning horse will remember that,” Schurin said.
The professor also said Connecticut’s lawmakers “don’t have a great deal of influence outside the state,” so their endorsement wouldn’t mean much, unless a candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders wanted to show that he had mainstream Democratic support.
After his big win in the Nevada caucuses last weekend, Sanders, who considers himself a Democratic Socialist, sent out a text message that said, “the establishment is in full panic mode.”
But Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told CNN this week he did not have any concerns about having Sanders at the top of the Democratic ticket.
“I think Bernie Sanders will beat Donald Trump,” Murphy said, citing the “enthusiasm” of the Vermont senator’s supporters. But Murphy added that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other Democrats in the race would also beat Trump.
He said he wants to keep from endorsing a candidate “as long as possible.”
“I have not made an endorsement and I am not going to make an endorsement until voters make their selection,” Murphy told The Connecticut Mirror.
That could be after March 3’s Super Tuesday primaries, when Democrats in 14 states – including California and Texas – pick their favorite Democratic presidential candidate and more than a third of all delegates to the Democratic National Convention are up for grabs.
Or it could be later.
Schurin said Connecticut lawmakers may start making endorsements just before the state’s primary on April 28.
But they may wait longer, “until the winnowing out has proceeded,” he said. The next likely time for candidates to drop out is after the South Carolina primary on Saturday; polls show former Vice President Joe Biden with a narrow lead over Sanders in that “First in the South” primary, where a majority of Democratic voters are black.
‘Steady habits’ vs everyone else
Even as Connecticut lawmakers are slow to make endorsements, their Democratic colleagues in other states have done so.
Nearly 70 House members and about eight senators have thrown their support behind a particular candidate, with Biden attracting the lion’s share of endorsements: five senators and 43 House members, many of them African American, are endorsing him, including Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who has big influence in his state’s politics.
Biden has also won the endorsement of Gov. Ned Lamont, and of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Delaware Gov. John Carney.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg – who has donated money to a number of Democratic campaigns – comes in second for congressional endorsements, with 13 House members supporting him in the relatively short time he’s been in the race.
Warren has won the support of 12 House members and one senator; Sanders, of seven House member and one senator; former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has seven house members, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has five House members and one senator backing her candidacy.
Like all other members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, isn’t among those who’ve endorsed a nominee.
“Joe hasn’t weighed in with an endorsement for any of the candidates – he’s not someone who thinks that folks in eastern Connecticut are clamoring to know his thoughts on presidential candidates,” said Courtney campaign spokesman Nick Boreen. “Joe is of the mind that it’s important to let the process play out, and to let folks formulate their own opinions by listening to the candidates.”