In 46 days, Republicans will gather to nominate their candidates for statewide offices feeling more confident of their chances to capture the governor's seat since 1998. The race for the nomination will now enter its first serious stage when local town committees select 1,249 GOP delegates to the state convention to be held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville. The hunt for delegates is on!
The candidates — former ambassador Thomas Foley, Senate Republican leader John McKinney, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Joseph Visconti, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and attorney Martha Dean — must now collect commitments from delegates and hold them throughout the blustering storm of the nomination process. It can be a messy, dirty process where one needs steady nerves and patience to succeed.
Foley, the front-runner, is talking like one. He enjoys high name recognition and a recent Quinnipiac poll that shows him almost tied with Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. That same poll also showed Foley had a lead among unaffiliated voters. Foley enjoys institutional support from the rank and file who feel he deserves another chance after his razor-thin loss in 2010.
When appearing before Republican audiences, Foley gives the impression the nomination is his and the general election with Malloy has begun.
There is one dangling issue for Foley — whether he takes the $6 million in taxpayer-financed funding, or uses his personal fortune to finance his campaign and match Malloy's secondary support from independent groups. The mystery over why he would go through the agonizing trouble of collecting thousands of small checks — only to reject the matching money — could lead some supporters to question his path to victory.
Foley spent roughly $10 million of his own money in 2010, and he can make a solid case that his brand has already been established and that $6 million is enough to defeat an unpopular incumbent.
Boughton and McKinney have their strengths, too, and if either or both qualify for state matching funds, the May convention will be one worthy of attendance. Boughton enjoys firm support from numerous GOP mayors and first selectmen who often control the delegations. State representatives and senators have been rounding up supporters on McKinney's behalf.
Dean's late entrance into the race has added a new element to the process and marginalized an already marginal Visconti, who has plenty of charm but little money or organization. Dean is seen as a voice for the more culturally conservative elements of the Republican Party who need little motivation to support her candidacy. Articulate and quick on her feet, Dean is talking about taxation, energy and education to show she is not simply an anti-gun control candidate. She must also guard against straying off topic where she earns puzzled stares.
If Dean is able to secure at least 10 or the 15 percent of the convention delegates, it could prove problematic for Foley winning on the first ballot. It would mark the first time the convention could go to multiple votes since John Alsop in 1962, when it took him eight ballots to be nominated against five opponents.
That is why having an effective floor operation will be the deciding factor for the winner of the nomination. And even the most experienced nose-counters will face a challenge with the site — an arena that is a short walk from slot machines, restaurants, bars and premier shopping outlets.
Most conventions are held where delegates are planted in their seats, where they can be counted on to vote when the roll is called or when deals are being cut. This will be the first time a nominating convention will be held in a casino and it will demonstrate whether the allure of free drinks and penny slots trumps the need to hear a seconding speech or a point of order.
Conventions have been called relics of modern politics, but this year may be one that will remind us that despite all the technology and micro targeting, politics is still about keeping your word and knowing how to count. n
Christopher Healy is the former chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007 to 2011. He is the current business development director for Summit Financial in Simsbury.
Correction & Amplification:
A previous version of this article said Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti was ignoring the Republican Convention and going to try to get on the primary ballot through a signature drive. Lauretti is in fact attending the convention and will compete for delegate votes.