HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut voters today settle the first direct showdown between Democratic presidential rivals Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown in a contest confused by the sudden exit of neighbor Paul Tsongas.

President Bush and challenger Patrick Buchanan paid little attention to the Republican primary. Bush's only campaigning was a series of Monday night satellite television interviews from the White House.

''I can't be a full-time candidate like others,'' he said. ''I've got to do my job.''

Brown was up early today for a labor breakfast in Manhattan at which he was endorsed by Barry Feinstein, head of a 165,000-member Teamsters local. ''We think people who work for a living will reject the Clinton candidacy ...'' Feinstein said.

Clinton worried aloud Monday that his supporters would stay home because of media reports suggesting he had the nomination all but locked up.

''If they don't think it's a big race it depresses turnout,'' the Arkansas governor said.

Indeed, voting got off to a slow start in the state's largest cities, election officials reported.

The Connecticut contest traditionally is toned down, sandwiched between last week's industrial showdowns and the April 7 primaries in New York, Wisconsin and Kansas. State officials predict turnout will be below that of 1988, when 37 percent of registered Democrats and 33 percent of registered Republicans cast ballots.

In Connecticut, some voters came away from the polls saying they had voted for former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, even though he dropped out of the race last week. But all of the candidates had their partisans.

Nilda Resto, 28, a service representative for the Social Security Administration, was supporting Clinton because ''he's looking out for the middle class and working on the economy, especially for us Hispanics in the community.''

Tsongas announced last week he was suspending his campaign. While the announcement appeared to be a major boost for Clinton, his aides said much of Tsongas' support shifted to Brown, a former California governor.

Clinton campaigned heavily in the state in the final days. He pushed his support for the Seawolf submarine - the source of 17,000 Connecticut jobs and a program Bush has recommended for cancellation. And he promised if elected to shift from a defense-related economy to a civilian one without imposing too many hardships on workers.

Bush seemed to be referring to Clinton's position on the Seawolf when he talked about defense cuts Monday in an interview with WTNH-TV of New Haven.

The president said he wanted to cut defense spending by $50 billion and said: ''You're hearing from the other side, 'Well 50's not enough, let's cut it by 100. But when I go to some different area or some different plant, I'll tell them I'll keep theirs open.' That's the oldest, most crass political game in the world.''

Tsongas supporters, meanwhile, ignored their candidate's announcement, broadcast a radio advertisement for Tsongas and distributed leaflets last week.

Brown added the House bank scandal to his anti-Washington rhetoric during the Connecticut campaign, and kept up his attacks on Clinton's character and record.

''Governing California is a qualifying experience for president,'' Brown said. ''Governing Arkansas and the way they do it is a different kettle of fish.''

Clinton entered today with a better than 7-1 delegate lead over Brown; 965.25 to 129.25, according to The Associated Press delegate tally. Bush is the runaway leader in the GOP delegate chase, with 715 to Buchanan's 46. At stake today were 53 Democratic delegates and 35 Republican delegates.

Although Clinton's lead is all but insurmountable, Brown is vowing to stay in the race.

''It isn't over,'' Brown said Monday. ''Bill Clinton has not been anointed by some politburo or secular college of cardinals. The people get to choose.''

Buchanan has virtually suspended campaigning but says he plans to stay in the race through California's June 2 primary.