BRIDGEPORT — Facing an increasingly narrow path to clinching the Republican presidential nomination before the convention, Donald Trump is leaving no delegate uncontested in the final 15 primaries on the calendar.
With 172 delegates up for grabs in Connecticut and the four other Northeastern states set to vote on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign has been on a whirlwind tour of the region in the days following his landslide victory in New York on April 19.
That tour made its second and third stops in Connecticut Saturday.
Despite holding a 20-point lead in the most recent Connecticut primary poll, Trump returned to the state to hold a pair of rallies and drum up enthusiasm among his supporters. About 3,000 people turned out in Waterbury Saturday morning with another 1,500 people in attendance in Bridgeport Saturday afternoon.
His hope is that a big enough victory in the Nutmeg State and delegate-rich Pennsylvania will bring him closer to the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July.
During both of his rallies, Trump decried “a rigged system” put in place to prevent him from winning the Republican nomination. He urged Connecticut supporters to turn out to vote Tuesday, even if victory already seemed assured because of the strong poll numbers.
Trump said this would be the only way he could win the vast majority of state’s 28 delegates.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” Trump told supporters at Saturday afternoon’s event at Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport. “The more we win by, the better it’s going to be.”
Both speeches echoed Trump’s familiar themes on the campaign trail. He told attendees at both rallies “America doesn’t win anymore” and reiterated his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border.
But his speeches also addressed a number of Connecticut-specific issues. He said Bridgeport and Waterbury have lost 60 percent of their manufacturing jobs since the 1990s.
“Connecticut’s doing very poorly – and we’re not going to talk about it anymore, because it’s all depressing,” said Trump, who then threw his notes across the stage Saturday morning at Crosby High School in Waterbury.
In Bridgeport, he reiterated his thoughts about Connecticut’s struggling economy and took his rhetoric a step further, proposing a new motto for the city: “If we elect Trump, we’ll thrive.”
Trump also highlighted challenges presented by the state’s shrinking labor force and the departure of businesses. He asked audience members how they could let General Electric move to Massachusetts and said if he were president, he could stop them from moving to China, but not across state lines.
Trump spent a large portion of both speeches criticizing those who said he has not been “presidential” in the way he has run his campaign. In the days following his win in New York, even some members of Trump’s staff began saying a new, more polished candidate would be seen on the campaign trail going forward.
Saturday’s rallies proved that would not be the case, as Trump told those in attendance he planned to be the same candidate that voters have seen since last summer – complete with all the grandiosity people have come to expect at his events.
Trump said he would not have gained as much support as he did without the tone he has taken on in speeches and interviews. Instead, Trump said, he would have been stuck polling in “single digits.”
The stops in Waterbury and Bridgeport marked the campaign’s second and third events in the state, following an April 15 rally in Hartford. Trump criticized his Republican opponents, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for not making more visits to the state. Kasich has held two events in Connecticut while Cruz has held none.
None of the Republican candidates have scheduled additional events in Connecticut before Tuesday.
While many recent Trump events have drawn a number of protesters – including his rally in Hartford last week – the pair of rallies Saturday proved to be relatively calm.
Only a handful protesters were ejected from the events in Waterbury and Bridgeport – in contrast to the 30 removed during the Hartford rally. However, in Bridgeport, one of those protesters tried to run back into the auditorium, resulting in a police officer placing him in a chokehold and dragging him out of the building. Police reported that no arrests were made at either site.
About 50 protesters waved signs outside Crosby High School in Waterbury, but they were isolated from most of the attendees at the rally. In contrast, Trump’s rally in Hartford last week drew hundreds of protesters outside the convention center. Trump supporters and protesters clashed at the base of the staircase exiting the convention center, though no fights broke out nor were any arrests made.
Several state legislators attended the rally in Waterbury. State Rep. Tony D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, addressed the crowd about an hour before Trump’s speech, calling on supporters of the campaign to volunteer at the state headquarters in Berlin. He is the only state legislator in Connecticut who has endorsed Trump.
Other attendees at the rally included state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, and state Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury. McLachlan and Noujaim have not endorsed any of the candidates.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides delivered remarks before Trump’s speech in Bridgeport, but also did not endorse him. She told attendees to channel their frustrations with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy into the presidential election over the next six months.
After her speech, Klarides spoke with reporters and said she will not endorse any candidate before the primary. She said she intends to support the eventual Republican nominee, even if the nominee is not a “perfect person.”
“I think that they all have good qualities, (and) I think they all have qualities I may not like,” Klarides said. “But this isn’t about finding a robot.”
Who that nominee will be remains in question, and Tuesday’s primaries in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware will play a major role in determining whether Trump can win the nomination outright.
The delegate math for Trump is becoming increasingly more challenging as the number of remaining primaries continues to dwindle. He currently has 846 delegates, according to the most recent projection from the Associated Press. He needs to win 391 of the 674 remaining delegates – about 58 percent – to clinch the nomination before the convention.
That would require big wins in nearly every state down the stretch with minimal margin for error.
At both rallies, Trump called on Cruz and Kasich to drop out because both have been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination on the first ballot at the convention.
A Quinnipiac poll of Connecticut voters released Wednesday found Trump had the support of 48 percent of Republicans while Kasich trailed in second place with 28 percent. Cruz garnered 19 percent in the poll while 5 percent remained undecided. However, 25 percent of those in the poll already committed to a candidate said they could change their minds at the voting booth Tuesday.