We in the Nutmeg State follow primaries in other states with great eagerness. Why? Because presidential candidates don’t campaign for our votes here, and we almost never see them, either in the primary season or during the general election. In the last cycle, Obama held a big rally in Hartford and another in Bridgeport. But given the fact that he has done little for cities, including not having an education policy, my prediction is that Obama won’t go farther north than Westport for this year’s campaign. Just like in Iowa, during the “Fairfield County caucuses,” ordinary Americans in our wealthiest suburbs gather democratically in each others’ living rooms and huddle in the corners.
Unlike Iowa, however, these citizens have a martini in one hand and a checkbook in the other. This is how the Founding Fathers elected presidents too (minus the trousers with little whales on them) and if we believe in nothing else in Connecticut, we believe in tradition.
For those of us in New England’s 99%, politics is all reality TV during this election cycle. “What state are the Republicans debating in this week?” we ask eagerly, wondering how many more snarky attacks Gingrich can make on Romney before the Newtster collapses into a puddle of bile. As a political historian who cares deeply about the electoral process, it’s like watching a presidential campaign unfold in another country. Honestly? Were I to go to South Africa I would have a better chance of meeting Jacob Zuma stump for votes than I have of meeting a candidate here, or even seeing one at a distance.
Despite the fact that Connecticut’s unemployment rate is substantially higher than that of Iowa or New Hampshire (and equal to Alabama), and we pay some of the highest taxes in the nation, nobody seems to give a hoot who we vote for or if we vote at all.
We sit at home watching debates that happen in other states, in front of other voters. Gwen Ifill doesn’t assemble groups of “typical” Connecticut voters to ask us about our thoughts, even though (given the size of the state) I bet we represent a disproportionate percentage of her viewers. To emphasize our irrelevance, Nutmeggers will vote on April 24, long after the Super Tuesday contests that will basically decide the Republican race. Connecticut has only 28 delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa, FL on August 27; by contrast, New Jersey has 50 and California has 172. So guess where the candidates spend their money? We even have to go on YouTube to see the attack ads.
Except for the fact that all candidates whisk in and out of the New York bedroom communities where hedge fund managers and armaments manufacturers dwell, Connecticut has very little influence in national politics. Once Joe Lieberman retires (thank you Jesus!!!) we will become almost completely irrelevant except as the home for a massive amount of defense spending (close to $16 billion the last time I counted.) Presidential advisors giggle at Connecticut’s seven votes in the electoral college and turn the conversation to Ohio. Think about it: you would have to combine Connecticut with Rhode Island (4), New Hampshire (4), Vermont (3), and Delaware (3) for this state to wield more influence than the state where I used to live, the now-hotly contested Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (20). Okay, throw in Maine (4), Massachusetts (11) and the District of Columbia (3) and we actually matter more than Texas (34), but that is really stretching it. So except for the political saturation of New Hampshire that culminates today, no candidate from either party and no member of the media will venture past exit 6 on the New Jersey Turnpike after today.
OK, maybe Obama will go make a campaign appearance with Elizabeth Warren. For two seconds.
But it seems that numbers are not the whole story. South Carolina has only 25 delegates: so why is everyone running to South Carolina instead of Connecticut? And why did candidates spend millions of dollars on Iowa’s stinking 28 votes? Do Iowans actually have any sense when it comes to voting? And even if they do, why do the media and political consultants think they can stand in for the rest of us? Click the previous link and you will see that 31 Iowans actually voted for “Buddy” Roemer (who most of us have forgotten was ever a candidate) and 58 voted for Herman Cain who went home weeks ago to offer Mrs. Cain a really big mansplaination.
Here’s my theory for why these primaries get such big play: Iowa and New Hampshire are nothing but political theater to try to persuade us that politics are still a local event and that people, rather than the corporate interests who support these campaigns and stand to gain the most from them, are the candidates’ primary concern. For all that the phrases “the American people” and “what the American people want” has become the primary logic for any political program, I think some of us count as “the American people” and some of us don’t. The criteria for that changes from year to year, depending on what constituency is in play. This year the American people everyone wants to know about are activist Christians.
Christian voters were a big deal in Iowa: hence Rick Santorum’s predictable surge there, and his equally predictable flop in the Granite State, which has gay marriage, is not overly friendly to home schooling, has no sin taxes and is one of the few states that does not require a minor to have parental consent to get an abortion. South Carolina, however, is chock full of Christian voters and Christian laws. No one knows what Christian voters — who have been the reliable backbone of the Republican electorate — are going to do. If you combine that with who the remaining candidates really are, none of them — except Rick Santorum and Rick Perry — count as Christians. Oh sure, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are men of great faith, but they are Mormons, and while the GOP is trying to cover this up as best it can, Christian voters probably cannot be mobilized for a Mormon candidate. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul don’t count as Christians. Newt has a very long history of un-Christian behavior which he isn’t a bit sorry about. Ron, on the other hand, says he “had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior,” but also includes God in his free to be you and me philosophy. “As He is free,” Paul says, “so are those He created in His image.” There is an exception to this, however. While women would be free to smoke pot throughout their pregnancies in Paul’s world, they would not have access to abortion.
“In addition to my time in Congress,” Paul writes,
I am proud to have delivered over 4,000 babies as a country doctor in Texas. As I trained to practice medicine, I became convinced without a doubt that life begins at the moment of conception. I never performed an abortion, and I never once found an abortion necessary to save the life of the mother. In fact, I successfully helped women struggling with their pregnancies to seek other options, including adoption….We must stand for life – not allow millions of innocent children to continue to be slaughtered with the government’s approval.
This might be another reason that candidates are even less likely to come to Connecticut than they were in the past: Republicans hewing to the right despise us, and Democrats hewing to the center want our money but they don’t want to be identified with our views. Even Republicans are pro-choice in Connecticut. Hence, our abortion laws are pretty liberal; we also have gay marriage and protect the rights of transpeople to public accommodations (otherwise known as “the bathroom bill.”) Here’s the kicker — a bastion of liberal Republicanism until 1992, the state has voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential candidate ever since, and since the last by-election has had an entirely blue Congressional delegation.
In a way it is a great comfort to live in a good, liberal state, with a liberal governor and a Democratic legislature, where you don’t have to worry about religious fanatics taking the rights to your body in the name of freedom for a zygote they have never met. But I envy these other states where Republicans seem to really want to contest elections, even if it does mean that you get endless robocalls from Newt Gingrich. It would be nice to be one of the American people.