Got a call the other day from a Republican friend, one of those traditional Connecticut middle-of-the-road GOP types, the sort who trends liberal on social issues but thinks wild-assed Democratic spending sucks. He was sounding rather relieved.

“I’ve finally figured out who I can vote for in the presidential primary,” he said with a rather sad little laugh, “and it’s ‘Uncommitted.’ ”

Unfortunately, a lot of folks aren’t aware that Connecticut is one of 27 Republican presidential primary states this year offering the option of voting for the Big U rather than choosing someone likely to produce polling place puke.

Once upon a time in America, Uncommitted was a big deal in the political primary world.

“It used to be that voting Uncommitted was very common… It used to be the rule,” explains Arthur Paulson, chairman of political science at Southern Connecticut State University. He says reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s effectively did away with the concept of state parties sending uncommitted delegates to national conventions and letting them decide once they got there who to choose as a presidential candidate.

In the Democratic Iowa caucuses in 1972 and 1976, “Uncommitted” occasionally continued to rack up successes, beating out dudes like Ed Muskie, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. But that just about ended the victory streak.

“I don’t  think Uncommitted has won much of anything in any state since then,” Paulson says a bit wistfully. “These days, you can’t beat somebody with nobody.”

In Connecticut’s 2008 Republican presidential primary, for example, Uncommitted took in a measly 1.6 percent compared to John McCain’s 52 percent. The Democrats that year left Uncommitted lingering last with just under 1 percent, while giving Barack Obama a win with 50.7 percent.

My Republican buddy does sound determined to help Big U on the comeback trail this year though. And he doesn’t appear to be alone.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is widely expected to be an easy winner in Connecticut’s April 24 GOP presidential primary. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s setting lots of Republican hearts afire here in the Land of Steady Habits.

“Romney has disappointed a number of people here, especially women, who just don’t think he’s been consistent on the issues,” says another long-time state Republican operative. “But if you look at any of these other guys, how they would play here – Oh my God!”

(In case you haven’t been paying attention, those “other guys” are former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S.Rep. Ron Paul. All happen to be a hell of a lot further toward the fringe of the Republican right than Romney.)

Romney is due in Hartford Wednesday as part of a campaign swing through some of the states voting on April 24 along with Connecticut. If you’re harboring any doubt where this state’s GOP leaders are, consider they’ve invited Romney’s wife, Ann, to be the keynote speaker at the state Republican’s big annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner in Stamford on the evening before the primary vote.

It’s pretty clear many Connecticut GOP folks consider Romney the least worst of a fairly sorry bunch. A recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed Romney walloping Santorum by 42-19 percent among Republican voters, with Gingrich lagging in the 13 percent range, followed by Paul at just 9 percent.

The trouble is that Romney’s stiff and sometimes inconsistent act doesn’t play very well with your average non-GOP Connecticut voter. Only 35 percent of all voters here give him favorable marks, compared to 43 percent who don’t like him, according to that March Q Poll. His positive ratings among women voters are even lower, down in the 32 percent range.
Romney has only made his general election outlook here worse by constantly sucking up to radical right voters in southern and western primary states.

Most Connecticut Republicans are way less conservative than the ultras that have been controlling the national GOP for more than a decade. Even so, our homegrown Republicans really don’t like Barack Obama and (like a lot of Democrats around here) believe he’s screwed up so badly that he’s extremely vulnerable this year.

Or would be, except for the sad-sack collection candidates Republicans are staring at. “Some people in the party think we’re going to look back and say we had such a chance [to win the presidency] and we blew it,” that Connecticut GOP veteran says.

Kinda even makes Uncommitted look good.

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