Connecticut Democrats are vying to hold their presidential primary earlier in 2024, an effort to play a more influential role in the process of selecting the nominee.
But the state likely faces stiff regional competition, especially from New Hampshire, which is trying to maintain its first-in-the-nation primary status.
It’s possible the Democratic National Committee could select more than one state from the northeast for the early-primary lineup, but the party wants to ensure there’s a balance of regional representation.
Connecticut was one of 16 states and one territory that traveled to Washington, D.C., in June to deliver presentations about why they should go earlier in the primary calendar. State officials and lawmakers argued that Connecticut’s compact size and a demographic makeup more closely resembling the U.S. provides an advantage for Democrats as they select their next presidential nominee in 2024.
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee will meet the first weekend of August to consider up to five early primary states and will make its recommendations shortly after. The full DNC will then vote on the new lineup in September. National Republicans, meanwhile, are keeping their calendar the same, with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada going first.
Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said early-state status would generate more excitement among voters and would also be an economic boon since presidential candidates, voters and reporters would be traveling and staying in the state. Connecticut originally scheduled its presidential primaries in April during the 2020 election, though they were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we have a shot at it,” DiNardo said in an interview. “Being an early state would be very exciting for Connecticut. There’s a lot more to Connecticut than just being a blue state.”
Early primaries hold greater influence in selecting presidential nominees because, by the time many of the states hold their contests, some of the candidates have already dropped out or are not longer viable options. The 2020 election was an exception to the rule: President Joe Biden lost in Iowa and New Hampshire but ultimately won the nomination.
The decision to potentially reshuffle Democrats’ primary calendar stemmed from criticisms that some of the early states don’t reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the party’s voters, plus the chaos that ensued during Iowa’s caucuses in 2020.
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina currently hold early contests, but they were forced to reapply for that status. Iowa and New Hampshire have specifically come under criticism for their lack of racial diversity as more Democrats want states that reflect demographics more akin to the party.
With the DNC expected to take geographical balance into consideration, Connecticut’s biggest competitors will likely be those in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region, including New Hampshire, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Connecticut has its own challenges as it seeks to move up on the calendar. As a Democratic stronghold in presidential races, Connecticut isn’t a swing state in general elections in the same way as New Hampshire.
Plus, while it looks more like the country demographically, Connecticut doesn’t reflect the Democratic Party’s base, which has more voters of color.
According to 2021 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 78.8% of Connecticut’s population is white, compared to 75.8% of the entire country. Meanwhile, Iowa and New Hampshire’s populations are over 90% white.
Andrea Benjamin, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, said Connecticut might fit into the larger lineup of early states, but when it comes to choosing the first two to vote, Democrats should look to states that better resemble Democratic voters, like Georgia and Nevada. Both states also presented to the DNC committee in June.
“It’s disconcerting when you think about who votes for this party and who’s allowed to say yes, you can keep moving forward,” Benjamin said. “We should reflect those voters and give them a chance to say earlier rather than later who they’d like to see” as the nominee.
Connecticut’s presentation largely centered around the size of the state, with state Rep. Stephanie Thomas, D-Norwalk, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, arguing that it makes it easy for candidates to get around the state in a short amount of time. They also noted Connecticut’s racial representation as well as its geographic diversity with cities, suburbs and rural areas.
“Connecticut is a small state geographically, but we are truly a microcosm of the country,” said Thomas, who’s running for secretary of the state. “One of our biggest assets is having all of that diversity within a two- to three-hour drive, making it a win-win for the electorate and candidates alike.”
They also see advertising and fundraising as other advantages since the state has an affordable media market and is close to New York City and other major metropolitan areas.
Thomas said that one broadcast TV market covers 75% of the state, while the remaining part — Fairfield County — can be reached with cable and even through New York City’s media market. She argued that presidential candidates would get a lot more bang for their buck in Connecticut compared to states like Iowa.
Erika Franklin Fowler, a professor of government at Wesleyan University who tracks political advertising, said the cost of advertising would likely rise since Connecticut’s market would see a lot more activity, though the state would still likely have the upper hand compared to a few others competing for an early-state slot.
“The cost of advertising is pretty affordable here because Connecticut doesn’t typically see a lot of television advertising during elections relative to other places, but that would obviously change if the state is selected,” Fowler said. “Compared to Delaware and New Jersey, however, Connecticut does have the advantage of having a dedicated broadcast market, so that’s a definite advantage.”
Still, experts in the presidential primary process see New Hampshire as the biggest roadblock.
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said he expects New Hampshire to go first no matter what the DNC decides. The state’s Secretary of State has the authority to change the date to ensure New Hampshire holds its primary before any other state.
When states previously tried to jump the line, he pointed out that the DNC said it would sanction them by taking away their delegates to the national party convention. But with New Hampshire having a small number of delegates, McLean argued that he’d expect the state to still want to preserve its influence and clout of going first.
“Good luck in displacing New Hampshire from its first-in-the-nation position,” McLean said. “New Hampshire still basically holds the hammer in the end, but having said that, I think the presidential primary process is very irrational, and it doesn’t particularly help the Democrats field the most winnable candidates.”
McLean also argued that Connecticut’s closed primaries — meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective nominating contests — limits participation of one of the biggest segments of voters in the state: unaffiliated voters.
“Connecticut would be a great state to have,” he added. “The downside of it is New Hampshire has a political culture in which high levels of participation and interest in the primary and candidates is a longstanding tradition.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.