TRUMBULL — Heading into a rematch of the 2010 governor's race, Republicans launched a unified campaign Wednesday to close the narrow margin by which Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy beat Greenwich businessman Tom Foley last time.
The morning after Foley defeated Senate Minority Leader John McKinney in the GOP primary, the two Republicans stood together at a press conference in a show of party unity central to the GOP's strategy this fall. With the party rallied behind one ticket, the aim is to channel economic frustration and draw urban votes.
Republican insiders are optimistic that the party has met its first challenge by avoiding the infighting that dominated the 2010 primary and, some believe, damaged GOP chances in that year's general election.
"This was a more healthy process and less bitterly fought" than the GOP primary in 2010, state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said Tuesday night.
The race between Foley and McKinney to challenge Malloy this year stayed largely civil and issue-focused — far from the smearing battle between Foley and former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele in 2010.
"Every time Republicans are not focusing on the issues and are running very, very tough negative ads against each other, it hurts our party," Labriola said. Fedele, in the summer leading up to the August 2010 primary, ran a series of ads attacking Foley for his business record, specifically his management of a Georgia textile manufacturing company he owned that later filed for bankruptcy and closed. In doing so, he served Democrats a silver platter of campaign material, which the Malloy team happily accepted and recycled in its own ads that fall — and again on Wednesday, when the governor launched a new ad that blares "Foley: Bankrupted the Bibb Co."
The morning after the 2010 primary, Foley said he expected Fedele to back him, but this year, McKinney's endorsement was outspoken and immediate. McKinney pledged his support in his concession speech Tuesday night and demonstrated it Wednesday morning — first at the press conference with Foley and then in a post to his campaign's Twitter account that read "Unite the Fight" alongside a picture of himself with Foley.
"The goal was always to have change in Connecticut in a new direction, and that goal is still achievable," McKinney said. "It's achievable for Tom Foley, and I'm going to make sure that happens."
By the end of the day, Republicans finally had their ticket, after a nail-biter race for the lieutenant governor nomination delayed results until Wednesday afternoon. Former Groton Mayor Heather Somers won by 771 votes, beating the party-endorsed candidate, Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker for the nomination.
On Wednesday morning, before the results were official, Foley said that he was looking forward to that race's being finalized and "having everybody who should be on the same team on the same team."
Somers, after her opponents had conceded, said that this year voters will see "the Republican Party rally with unity because they are committed to defeating Dan Malloy in the fall."
"You are going to see an effort that you've never seen before," she said.
Malloy won by fewer than 6,500 votes in 2010, carrying the state's three biggest cities to eke out a win against Foley. This year, Foley has signaled that he will focus on urban outreach to try to narrow that gap. Democratic strongholds like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport are unlikely to swing Republican, but Malloy won Waterbury by only 1,600 votes in 2010, and Foley has campaigned heavily there this year.
At a press conference in Trumbull on Wednesday, Foley said he was in "[urban] communities now … talking to people about policies related to schools, and housing."
"Before I come out with a plan, I want to make sure that it's a plan that people in those communities embrace," he said. "The governor spent a lot of time in the cities [in 2010]. … He made a lot of promises and there's a lot of unhappiness."
Democrats will point to statistics and claim that Malloy created jobs and helped lead the state out of the recession.
Foley and Somers, meanwhile, have planned a targeted attack against Malloy's economic record that they say has resulted in high taxes and people leaving the state. Labriola, the party chairman, said that the election will be a "referendum on Connecticut's failed economy" and that the candidates are looking to use disappointment in their favor.
"People are looking for a different perspective," Somers said. Both she and Foley have private-sector backgrounds, and say they are not "part of the problem" at the Capitol.