Support in state for candidate Hillary is unclear
Published 10:47 pm, Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Connecticut can be fickle -- just ask the Clintons. Winning over liberal Democrats in the state where they met as Yale Law School students has proven elusive for the couple, with Hillary Rodham Clinton losing her party's presidential primary here to Barack Obama in 2008 and Bill Clinton edged by Jerry Brown in 1992.
So will 2016 be any different for the former first lady and former secretary of state? Or will the party's influential progressive wing look again for an alternate messenger, perhaps to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.?
A huge piece of the puzzle fell into place recently for Democrats, with Clinton announcing her candidacy for president via social media and a video message that ended months of speculation about the worst-kept secret in politics.
"She literally can make history," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "How many people have been a presidential spouse, a senator in her own right and a distinguished secretary of state with a record of representing a major state (New York) and our nation abroad? By any measure, she is very seriously and significantly qualified, especially as compared to some of the other contenders."
Blumenthal befriended the Clintons at Yale in the early 1970s when Hillary Clinton was one of only 27 women in a class of 235 students. Seven years ago, he was co-chairman of Clinton's presidential campaign in Connecticut. That, of course, did not end well. Obama, then an Illinois senator, pried the Nutmeg State away from Clinton on Super Tuesday after he and future first lady Michelle Obama made a pair of timely visits here.
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Many in the Democratic establishment expect that Clinton, who lives next door in Chappaqua, N.Y., and has been dogged by her use of private email as secretary of state, will eventually exorcise those demons of 2008.
"I do believe, obviously, there are people out there who are hoping that somebody more progressive does get into the race," said Nancy DiNardo, who retired in February as state Democratic chairwoman. "I think after a while when they see that there is nobody else out there, I think they're going to realize that Hillary Clinton is the choice to move the country forward."
An announcement, finally
Clinton, 67, marked her debut as a candidate with a two-minute video montage that opens with voters talking about what they're looking forward to this year: the birth of a child, a career change, retirement, a home renovation, a same-sex wedding and a young mother's return to work.
"I'm getting ready to do something, too. I'm running for president," Clinton said in the video. "Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Every day, Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by -- you can get ahead and stay ahead -- because when families are strong, America is strong."
Republicans, who welcomed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to Connecticut in January at a Greenwich fundraiser for his anticipated White House bid, immediately panned Clinton's candidacy.
"Hillary Clinton has been running for president for at least a decade, and today she finally made it official," Jerry Labriola Jr., the state GOP chairman, said in a statement.
"Since she re-emerged into the spotlight, voters have been reminded that the word `scandal' is synonymous with `Clinton.' As the Clinton record is examined over the months to come, voters in Connecticut will become very familiar with the troubling practices of `Clinton, Inc.' We look forward to seeing how Clinton answers for her countless ethical issues, conflict-of-interest allegations and hypocrisies on key issues."
But before Clinton can even begin to focus on Republicans, she must prove to progressive Democrats that she can articulate their populist point of view on income inequality. Among them is Audrey Blondin, a Democratic State Central Committee member from Litchfield and bankruptcy attorney who supported Clinton in 2008 but wants Warren to run and challenge Clinton in a primary.
"That was then and this is now," Blondin said. "I think this primary process is good for the country. It's good for the party. The Republicans are going to dominate every news cycle for the next year."
As the senior U.S. senator from neighboring Massachusetts, Warren has endeared herself to many liberals with her crusade against big banks and the practices of the financial services industry, so much so that the grass-roots group MoveOn.org " called recently for her to enter the race. Warren maintains that she isn't running for president. But that didn't stop supporters from turning out for a Ready for Warren coffee that Blondin hosted in Torrington in the fall.
"So it's a big movement. You have to remember this is a state that voted for Jerry Brown," Blondin said. "I know I'm more than ready for Warren."
Clinton's street cred with the liberal wing of the Democratic party in Connecticut recently got a shot in the arm, courtesy of Rosa DeLauro.
The far left elderstateswoman of the state's congressional delegation endorsed Clinton for president, tamping down speculation that DeLauro could be wooed by a more liberal alternative. U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who has been targeted by the party's liberal wing because of his ties to Wall Street, said the nomination is Clinton's to lose.
"As a practical matter, there's not going to be a primary unless something goes really wrong in the Clinton campaign," Himes said. "Good or bad, I actually think there's value in primaries." While he rode the coattails of Obama to Congress in 2008, Himes said Clinton has her strengths, including appealing to white middle class voters in the Midwest and, of course, a charismatic surrogate in Bill Clinton.
"I think that the Clinton candidacy opens up areas in which we have not been all that competitive," Himes said. "I think you're going see a lot of people excited by the prospect of the first woman president." Said Schurin, the UConn professor, "Unless she stumbles dramatically, which is always possible, I don't see her being seriously challenged."
Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., who inflamed Republicans when he voted against impeachment of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, said the Clinton brand is surprisingly enduring in the state.
"I think people in Connecticut are very tolerant of their misdeeds," Shays said.
The prospect of appearing on the same ticket with Clinton must be particularly attractive to Blumenthal, who is up for re-election in 2016.
"I think the more people can see Hillary the person, I'm tempted to say the real Hillary Clinton, the more that they will develop very deep and genuine affection and admiration for her," Blumenthal said. "It will be a demanding and difficult campaign, as every presidential campaign is. She has extraordinary breadth of experience and balance and temperament and intellect and insight on issues."
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