HARTFORD -- The four strongest Republican candidates for president will be on the April 24 state primary ballot.

One hopeful, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who was crushed in the New Hampshire primary, missed the deadline Friday by about 40 minutes.

Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, with Republican State Central Committee Chairman Jerry Labriola by her side, announced Friday morning that Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will be on the state's presidential preference ballot.

Roemer, a former congressman, would have to collect 4,100 signatures -- 1 percent of enrolled state Republicans -- by March 2 in order to be included in the primary. Roemer received less than 1 percent of the GOP primary vote in New Hampshire.

Av Harris, Merrill's communications director, said Friday afternoon that Roemer's campaign announced his intention to get on the ballot about 40 minutes after the 10 a.m. deadline. Harris said Merrill had previously considered Roemer's candidacy for the ballot, but decided against it.

Merrill and Labriola agreed that with the race seesawing among the four major contestants as primaries and caucuses are held throughout the country, it seems the primary season will still be hot when Connecticut joins New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 24.

"The way things are going in the Republican nomination contest so far it could be a very significant and delegate-rich day in a competitive race," Merrill said.

In the event that a Democratic challenger collects 7,500 signatures by March 2, Merrill is proceeding with plans for a Democratic primary with President Barack Obama on the ballot.

Merrill said that unlike New Hampshire, where contestants pay $1,000 to enter the primary field, she gets to determine the viability of candidates based on national and state news media reports. On March 20, Merrill will make a drawing for their order on the ballot.

"Now that we know who the candidates will be for Connecticut, I encourage all registered Republicans to get educated on the candidates and pay close attention to the race," she said. Unregistered voters have until April 23 at noon to register, and unaffiliated voters may transfer their registration by that date as well.

With the 28 state GOP delegates divided proportionately based on how the candidates fare on April 24, Labriola is hoping for visits by the contenders.

"The Republican presidential primary campaign continues to be a wide open, extremely competitive race and that means a lot will be at stake in Connecticut on Primary Day," said Labriola, who said he will remain neutral until the August national party convention in Tampa, Fla. "This is a great opportunity for our geographically small state to be a big player on a national stage."