The race for the Republican nomination for governor is an odd and complex affair. The candidates are campaigning around the state seeking support from the 1,200 people they expect to be delegates at the May nominating convention at the Mohegan Sun casino.
The wider public will see little of them, because conventions matter in Connecticut. A candidate who wins a party endorsement rarely loses in the nominating primary that may follow. Candidates endorsed at their party conventions swept the field when challenged in primaries for major offices in 2010 and 2012.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Ambassador Tom Foley and state Sen. John McKinney are the major contenders for the Republican nomination. The state's system of public financing of campaigns has complicated the stages of statewide campaigns and the bookkeeping of contributions. Boughton and McKinney are declared candidates for governor seeking to raise $250,000 in contributions of no more than $100 each to qualify for millions in public funds.
Foley, the 2010 Republican nominee for governor who almost defeated Democratic and Working Families nominee Dannel Malloy four years ago, is an exploring candidate. That means he can collect contributions of up to $375 each but only some of them will count toward the $250,000 benchmark.
McKinney's report for the final quarter of 2013 showed him at $134,000, far ahead of his two rivals in qualifying funds. The long slog of raising a quarter-million dollars in small contributions is a frustrating reminder to candidates of how few people are engaged in the state's politics. It requires candidates to immerse themselves in drudgery day after day in the hunt for new friends in the state's donating class.
There's an enormous payoff of millions of dollars if you reach the goal, but it's an isolating enterprise of phone calls and small events. The wider public is ignored while the chase for qualifying contributions goes on and on.
Foley was a fierce critic of the public finance program in 2010. So it's a surprise that he has taken some tentative steps into full participation. The Greenwich businessman financed most of his 2010 campaign from his fortune. It remains a possibility (some say likelihood) that he will do the same this year. After all, one of his attractions to Republicans in 2010 was that he would be able to outspend his Democratic opponent, if it was Malloy, and keep up with the other Democratic hopeful that year, Greenwich plutocrat Ned Lamont, if he won his party's nomination.
Boughton is popular with many of the 1,200 delegates who will decide the convention's nominee. He made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010 and ended up as Foley's running mate. Boughton is friendly and can reel off a list of sunny achievements as mayor of Danbury over 12 years. If Boughton can get to $250,000 with the help of $75,000 in qualifying funds from a running mate, a tranche of delegates may be tempted to bolt from Foley, who returned to public view this fall with a series of calamitous mistakes.
McKinney is a mix of temptation and torment for another strain of Republican activists. He is the candidate Malloy and his surly minions fear most. He's a moderate Republican of the sort that has done well in state races for governor. McKinney, who represents Newtown in the senate, supported new restrictions on gun ownership last year.
Gun rights activists are vehemently opposed to McKinney. We'll find out if their influence in the party matches the volume of their protests. The first chance to see how McKinney stands up in a candidate forum to a barrage of anti-gun control activists comes Friday night in Canterbury. Boughton, McKinney, and Foley will appear with three other Republicans exploring a bid for governor, state Sen. Toni Boucher, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and Joe Visconti of West Hartford.
Hundreds are expected to attend the event, making it the biggest gathering of the campaign so far. Eastern Connecticut likes its guns. This will be a test of McKinney's ability to explain and persuade. There will be a secondary competition between Foley and Boughton for the support of the gun control opponents, but it's McKinney who will be on the griddle with the chance to gain or lose the most.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.