Conn. GOP sees Romney as benefit to state ticket
HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut Republicans hope that now Mitt Romney has tightened his grip on the GOP nomination for president, his general election message will resonate in this Democratic leaning state and help the state's entire ticket.
Jerry Labriola, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he believes Connecticut could potentially become a battle ground state.
"When people start to look closely at (President) Obama's economic record, what Mitt Romney brings to the table will look very good to Connecticut voters. After all, he's a moderate, former New England governor with recognition in our state," Labriola said. "I believe he's a candidate that Connecticut voters will become very comfortable with during the general election campaign."
A March Quinnipiac poll showed Obama winning a potential match-up with Romney, 53 percent to 37 percent. The survey of 1,622 registered voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
Romney on Tuesday easily won the Republican presidential primary vote in Connecticut, a contest marked by little drama and low voter turnout. He was expected to win all the state's 25 delegates that were up for grabs, as well as the support of the state's three super delegates, Labriola said.
"Garnering two-thirds of the vote in a four-way race is no small feat," Labriola said. He attributed part of the victory to Monday night's visit to the state by Romney's wife, Ann, who was the keynote speaker at a sell-out fundraiser in Stamford for the state's GOP.
With 96 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney garnered 67 percent of the vote, followed by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul with 13 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 10 percent and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had seven percent. Santorum announced he was withdrawing from the race after it was too late to change the state's primary ballot.
Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, made a campaign stop in Hartford this month, but the state election lost most of its excitement weeks ago with the withdrawal of Santorum, his leading rival. Secretary of State Denise Merrill said preliminary reports Tuesday night from local voting officials show that voter turnout ranged from around 10 to 13 percent.
"I think there is less motivation for some folks to go to the polls when they think the deal is done," Labriola acknowledged.
Tuesday's contest marked the first presidential primary since Connecticut officials decided last year to change the date in hopes of creating a regional primary with New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware, theoretically giving the state's voters more of an impact on the primary process. Connecticut had been a Super Tuesday state, holding its primary in February.
"You never know if it was going to make any difference," said Merrill, when asked if the change was a mistake. "Clearly, by now it's sewn up. But the primary four years ago was still interesting at this point. You never know. Hard to call it."
Romney won in all five states on Tuesday, saying that primary voters had given him "a great honor and solemn responsibility."
Poll workers in several towns reported only a trickle of voters. As of 2 p.m. in Glastonbury, only 94 of the 1,270 registered Republicans who vote at the Academy Building polling place on Main Street had cast ballots.
"It's hard when it's slow. We're about half-way through," said moderator Eileen Kelly, looking up at the clock. "I just think it's wonderful that as many people are coming."
In Westbrook, only 162 of the town's 1,134 registered Republicans turned out to vote on Tuesday. In Winchester, 209 out of 1,445 Republicans voted, while 347 out of 2,035 in Canton voted, and 209 out of 1,445 in Winchester went to the polls.
Some Republican voters who turned out for the primary expressed excitement about Romney.
"I think he'll just do well, he understands the issues, as far as business is concerned, and that's where we need the most help in getting our economy going again," said Natalie Marek, of Coventry.
Others said they were voting for Romney even though he was not their first pick.
RJ Sisca, 25, said he originally supported Santorum, but after he suspended his campaign Sisca felt as though he had no choice but to support Romney.
"The way they do the process, it's kind of like messed up," Sisca said as he voted in Glastonbury. "It seems like instead of letting the actual voters choose who they want, they kind of back someone early in the campaign so it kind of makes everybody else like a true underdog."
Joan Carlson, 60, of Glastonbury, said Romney wasn't her first choice as well. She was leaning toward Gingrich.
"I think initially he was too nice," she said of Romney. "I think he needed to address issues more."
Associated Press writer Shannon Young contributed to this report.