The state party chairs, Republican Ben Proto and Democrat Nancy DiNardo, jointly testified. CTN

Connecticut’s Republican and Democratic state party chairs offered a united front Monday by jointly testifying in support of liberalizing state party fundraising rules and moving the presidential primary from the last to the first Tuesday in April.

Given the hyper-partisan nature of contemporary politics, cordial lobbying by the GOP’s Ben Proto and the Democrats’ Nancy DiNardo might seem odd, but the pair long has found common cause on the mechanics of politics.

“And contrary to popular belief, we work together more often on things than might otherwise be known,” said Proto, a long-time operative and elections lawyer who became state chair in 2021.

The state party chairs testified before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in support of House Bill 6904, the fundraising measure, and House Bill 6908, the primary scheduling bill.

Proto and DiNardo share a goal of making Connecticut an attractive place for presidential candidates to campaign and not just raise money, always a challenge for a small state with a limited cache of delegates.

“For too many presidential elections, Connecticut voters have been shortchanged in the primaries by being scheduled on the last Tuesday in April,” said DiNardo, who was state chair from 2005 to 2015 and returned in 2020.

Too often, the winners of the nominations are known before the end of April.

In 2020, for example, Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign on April 8 and endorsed Joe Biden on the 13th.

(Thanks to COVID-19, and the fact that Biden and Donald J. Trump had their nominations assured, the presidential primary was delayed in 2020 to August, when the primaries for state offices in Connecticut are held.) 

Under current law, the state’s 2024 presidential primary wouldn’t be held until April 30. The bipartisan bill would move it to April 2. 

Voter interest — and the state economy — benefit when the primary is held when the outcome is in play, Proto said.

“We know that when the candidates come to a state they spend a lot of money, not only on their media buys, but also within our hospitality industry, on salaries, on staff,” Proto said. “So there’s a tangential benefit to doing this to making a competitive state that candidates want to come to.”

Connecticut was one of 20 states that made a bid for an early primary to the Democratic National Committee, which had made clear it was intent on shaking up the primary calendar by raising the profile of states with populations more diverse than the early primary caucus state of Iowa and primary state of New Hampshire.

State legislatures set the dates in conjunction with the political parties — and sometimes at odds with them. The parties establish a window for the states to hold their primaries, which can only be enforced by threatening to deprive states of delegate spots if they do not comply.

The Democrats’ new calendar would strip New Hampshire of its first-in-the-nation primary status by scheduling South Carolina for Feb. 3, Nevada and New Hampshire for Feb. 6,  Georgia for Feb. 13, and Michigan for Feb. 27.

New Hampshire is expected to defy the Democrats’ new calendar, since state law requires its presidential primary to be at least seven days before any other state’s primary.

Republicans still would begin with a New Hampshire primary on Feb. 13.

Even with a primary on April 2, Connecticut still would be relatively late. In addition to the five states with February primaries, another 14 will hold primaries on March 5, dubbed “Super Tuesday.”

The Super Tuesday lineup includes the New England states of Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, along with delegate-rich California and Texas.

The other issue on which DiNardo and Proto agree is money. They want the maximum contributions to the state party to be raised from $10,000 to $15,000.

“Our small donors are our lifeblood, and they really make our party hum,” Proto said. “But our maximum donors are also instrumental in helping us pay our everyday costs, and like any other business, and we do have a business side of this, our cost to do business has increased over the last 10 or 12 years. And we needed an opportunity to be able to pay for those costs as well.”

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.