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September 30, 2013 OTHER VOICES

Foley in, but GOP has long road ahead

Christopher Healy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy may be ranked as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, but it is mug’s bet to suggest that he will return quietly to Stamford in 2015. Malloy is persistent, disciplined and driven.

Those qualities were recently put to the test as his best known challenger, the man Malloy beat narrowly in 2010, showed up to say he was in — well sort of.

Republican businessman Thomas Foley of Greenwich recently announced he was “exploring” another run for the No. 1 job in Connecticut. Few believe Foley will not run again, but his uneven campaign “roll out” has startled the political community, and raised some furrow brows from GOP loyalists.

Foley joined fellow Republican explorers State Sen. Toni Boucher, (R-Westport), and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, (R-Fairfield), is proceeding as a fully committed candidate.

Foley suggested he may make use of the state campaign financing program to fund his gubernatorial bid, rather than spend his own wealth. Foley spent close to $10 million in 2010, but he feels he could beat Malloy straight up in the next election with the up to $6 million from state campaign matching funds.

Having the scratch to surpass Malloy’s war chest is one of Foley’s strongest arguments with Republican nominating delegates. Foley’s uncertainty on funding paled in comparison to the worry he created among GOP advocates over his shaky Sept. 15 performance on Channel 3’s “Face the State” program and in various subsequent radio interviews.

Rather than continue his attack on Malloy over the economy and jobs, Foley focused on several incidents involving the machinations of bids and legal counsel for bonding projects.

Foley admitted he had no proof to back up his charges. Editorial boards and Malloy allies excoriated Foley, who argued the basics of his statements were true — that there is too much double-dealing in Hartford.

Whether the charges are true or not, an opportunity to reintroduce himself as an economic turn-around artist and job-creator was lost. Ethics does matter, but most voters are worried about economic survival rather than patronage or honest graft.

Foley’s attacks on Malloy also cost the former ambassador some good will among the Connecticut media, who found him pleasant and professional in demeanor. The goodwill Foley worked hard for in 2010, capped off by his classy concession speech, wilted a bit as he asked reporters to look into the charges he couldn’t document.

Each Republican candidate has plenty of material to question Malloy’s effectiveness as steward of the state — mostly the stagnant economy, complete with record unemployment, generationally punishing deficits, long-term obligations and a weak housing sector.

And probably the worst statistic of all for Malloy: fewer people are working in Connecticut at any time since 1989.

Foley’s performance has given Boughton, McKinney and Boucher an opportunity. Boughton is very popular among rank and file Republicans. He is a gifted speaker and retail politician and has a strong record in Danbury. Boughton believes he is the only candidate who can make inroads into the cities because he has transformed a Democratic city into a Republican stronghold.

McKinney is also easy with crowds and has a natural grasp of policy issues. He still has to make the transition from capitol insider to statewide retail candidate. Often McKinney will use the “capitol talk” of government acronyms and political shorthand. That is more than manageable. His biggest obstacle with Republican primary voters is his support of gun control legislation this year. McKinney represents the town of Newtown — site of the horrible mass murder last year.

Many believe Boucher, who is not well known outside her district, is looking to be asked to run for lieutenant governor. She is not interested in being No. 2. Boucher is spirited, full of energy and attentive — something needed in this campaign.

For now, McKinney, Boucher and Boughton must get to the time consuming task of small-dollar donation collection, so they can make the threshold for state funding and then qualify for an August primary.

Foley must calm some nervous Republicans and realize it won’t be as easy a path to the nomination as once thought.

And Malloy, well he’s just watching the fun.

Christopher Healy is the former chairman of the Connecticut Republican party and founder of Healy Strategy in Wethersfield. He will be writing an occasional column for the Hartford Business Journal.

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