Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney roared to victory Tuesday night in Connecticut on a busy presidential primary day in five states as his key opponents have dropped out of the race.
Romney was far ahead in a low-turnout race in a state where the former Massachusetts governor has the support of virtually the entire Republican establishment.
“He’s at 67 percent. I think that will hold,” said Jerry Labriola, Jr., the state Republican chairman, said soon after the polls closed. “Garnering two thirds of the vote in a four-way race is no small feat. Ann Romney’s terrific message [at the Prescott Bush Awards Dinner this week] no doubt provided a big boost to Governor Romney’s margin of victory – 800 leaders of the party. That has a multiplier effect. Her highly personal and emotional speech was very moving to our Republican base.”
Regarding Romney’s chances against President Barack Obama in November, Labriola said, ”He is a strong candidate, and his message is resonating with the voters. Mitt at the top of the ticket is very good news for the Connecticut Republican Party. He is a moderate, former New England governor with good recognition in our state. Connecticut voters will be very comfortable with Mitt Romney in the general election campaign. When people start to look closely at Obama’s economic record, what Mitt Romney brings to the table will look very good to Connecticut voters.”
Romney is the last frontrunner standing in a Republican race that has seen numerous frontrunners. Some were quite brief, but the frontrunners, at various times, included Texas Governor Rick Perry, pizza entrepreneur Herman Cain, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Connecticut was one of five states Tuesday with primaries, along with New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
The Republican race essentially ended two weeks ago when Romney’s toughest opponent, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, dropped out of the battle after trailing by five points in a poll in his home state of Pennsylvania. Santorum won 11 states, compared to two victories for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has not won any primaries and neither did any of the brief frontrunners, including Perry.
In Connecticut, many social conservatives who had preferred other Republicans will now switch to Romney against President Barack Obama in November, said Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut Action.
“There’s always been this hesitation about Mitt Romney because he’s been on the other side on some social issues, and he has come around,’’ Wolfgang said in an interview. “Romney has been telling us for years that ‘I’ve changed my mind. I’m with you.’ Mitt Romney is someone who has had a change of heart. A lot of Americans have changed their minds on abortion.”
With the GOP nomination all but wrapped up, Romney was not in any of the five primary states on Tuesday night. Instead, he was in Manchester, New Hampshire – the epicenter of the New Hampshire primary. He was delivering a speech called “A Better America Begins Tonight.”
Romney stepped to the podium at 8:53 p.m. and named the five states where he won Tuesday. “I can say with confidence and gratitude that you have given me a great honor,” Romney said. “We launched this campaign not far from here … in New Hampshire. It’s been an extraordinary journey.”
He addressed his message to struggling Americans, saying, ”Hold on a little longer. A better America begins tonight. Tonight is the start of a new campaign. … It’s still about the economy, and we’re not stupid. People are hurting in America, and we know that something is wrong – terribly wrong – with the direction of the country. … Those who promise to spread the wealth around only succeed in spreading poverty around.”
Santorum came to Connecticut in late September for a speech in front of the Family Institute, and he had received an endorsement from Wolfgang. But once Santorum dropped out of the race, Wolfgang switched his allegiance to Romney. Still, Wolfgang noted that Santorum remained on the Connecticut ballot and would still have support from some voters here.
“Rick Santorum definitely won the hearts and minds of the social conservative movement,’’ Wolfgang said. “It’s almost a goodbye gift’’ to vote for Santorum in Connecticut.
“There’s clearly some fence-mending that Romney has to do with grass-roots social conservatives,’’ Wolfgang said. “Rick Santorum was the most viable candidate against Mitt Romney. Some of his supporters have not given up.’’
The other candidates, however, fell off sharply in the Nutmeg State.
“Gingrich is a non-factor,’’ Wolfgang said. “Ron Paul is more a cause than a presidential candidate.’’
With a lack of a competitive race and relatively little publicity about the primary, the turnout Tuesday was low. Av Harris, a spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office, had predicted a turnout of 15 percent to 20 percent. The overall number appeared to collapse as 20 percent was optimistic. In many areas, it was far lower than that.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, there was a “very light, sparse turnout,’’ Harris said. “Very few voters, very little traffic so far. There might be more of a pickup in the evening hours as voters get off work.’’
The Hartford Courant’s Farmington Valley reporter, Hillary Federico, reports the following:
In Simsbury, only about 15 voters were showing up each hour at the Henry James Memorial School in the center of town. A poll worker said it was “a waste of time and money’’ to have a non-competitive primary.
By 5 p.m., only 160 people had voted at the Henry James Memorial School with about 15 people voting per hour. The town has four other polling places, but turnout there was relatively low.
Republican Deputy Registrar of Voters Gail Stempien said she was hoping for 20 percent of all Republican voters to come to the polls today, but estimated only 10 percent would turn out.
The staff working the polls at Henry James said they had been turning people away all day because they had thought it was the only polling location open in town.
Stempien said that many people were confused because the town uses Henry James for the town budget referendum.
“Since we knew there was going to be low turnout [today], we were hoping to consolidate at Henry James but could not because of state law,” Stempien said.
In Farmington, at the Irving A. Robbins Middle School on Wolf Pit Road, only 233 people had voted by 5:30 p.m.
In Hartford, a longtime Democratic stronghold, it was hard to tell that there was a primary at all, based on the turnout.
National officials released statements about the Connecticut victory for Romney.
”After more than three years of the failed policies of President Obama, Connecticut voters are ready for a new direction, and tonight they voted for exactly that,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “I congratulate Mitt Romney on his victory, as our party begins coalescing around a candidate to take on President Obama in November.
“Our country cannot afford four more years of President Obama. Under his watch, unemployment has been chronically high. Wages are shrinking, but prices for gas, groceries, and health care are skyrocketing. Americans have to make do with less, but Democrats insist on more reckless government spending to pay for their agenda.
“Republicans will put an end to President Obama’s liberal tax-and-spend ways,” said co-chairman Sharon Day. “While the president campaigns on divisive, hypocritical rhetoric to distract voters from his record, Republicans are running on solutions to the problems he has created.
“We look forward to working with our nominee to end Barack Obama’s presidency and put America on the path toward opportunity and prosperity.”
In unofficial results before all the votes were tallied, Romney was ahead with 66 percent of the vote – far ahead of Ron Paul with 14 percent. Gingrich had 10.6 percent, and Santorum had 7.5 percent, according to the unofficial results.