Either Thomas Foley or John McKinney, Republican candidates for governor competing in the Aug. 12 party primary, would enter the fall campaign against incumbent Democrat Dannel P. Malloy with a strong chance of victory. Republican primary voters could endanger their candidate's prospects in November if they saddle him with state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford, as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Bacchiochi has been a disaster of the sort that has the Malloy team delighting in the prospect of using her to take down the Republican ticket. Bacchiochi gave them the tools to do it. During a local radio appearance the day before May's party nominating convention, she declared herself the victim of a racist whisper campaign because she is married to a black man. Later that day, she told WFSB's Susan Raff that the culprit was rival David Walker's campaign. He is McKinney's running mate. Walker's campaign seems to have faltered after a promising start.
Under pressure to provide some evidence, Bacchiochi crumbled. She'd made up the heinous story. More than two months later, Bacchiochi's ugly gambit retains the power to disgust. Last month, one of Bacchiochi's campaign consultants accused another rival, Heather Bond Somers, of "white privilege." She was dismissed from the campaign. But the two incidents reveal the atmosphere that Bacchiochi creates in her campaign.
On Monday, I revealed on my blog, Daily Ructions, that Bacchiochi failed to report in a mandatory annual state ethics disclosure $27,000 in payments she received in 2012 from Christopher Shays' U.S. Senate campaign. Bacchiochi was forced to fix the embarrassing mistake. This is how elections are lost.
Bacchiochi is especially dangerous for Foley, who has been a loud critic of the cozy way he sees business done in state government — especially the legislature. He won't be able to make excuses for the more than $100,000 Bacchiochi received from a group supporting the legalization of medical marijuana while she was one of the issue's loudest supporters in the state legislature.
Somers, the former mayor of Groton, offers the best alternative to Bacchiochi, which Republican leaders seem to realize and they are offering assistance. While Foley has not endorsed a candidate, some of his prominent supporters have been moving to Somers in the hope of averting a Bacchiochi nightmare.
Somers has plenty of qualifications — beyond not being Bacchiochi. She started a small biotech company with two partners in 1996. I've talked to a lot of candidates and I don't recall any, before I sat down with Somers last week, who can speak with easy authority on polymers, organic pigments and transforming plastic into foam to vacuum wounds. She is something not many candidates are in what's become a homogenized business: interesting.
Before the biotech business took off, Somers worked as a waitress at a Stonington restaurant. She's been on the Groton town council for more than a decade. That's provided her with experience in a town that faces complicated issues. She's familiar with the benefits and challenges of leading a town that hosts a submarine base. That unique knowledge will prove helpful in the next round of base closure competition.
Somers is from eastern Connecticut, where Republicans sense a chance for a significant breakthrough this year. Groton is in the southern part of that region; Willimantic, where Somers started her business, is in the northern area of it. She offers what both McKinney and Foley will need to win.
There are no statewide Democratic primaries, but there is an important one in the Hartford area. Longtime state Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, is in a battle with Hartford city council leader Shawn Wooden for the nomination in a district that includes parts of Bloomfield, Hartford and Windsor. Lagging behind the two main contenders is Windsor Democrat Lenworth Walker.
If a fraction of the constituents Coleman has helped in his public service vote in the contest, he will win in a landslide. But that's not how politics works. Wooden is nothing but ambition, and that can be masked in many ways. An ally of discredited City Treasurer Adam Cloud, Wooden ran a disastrous race for mayor a few years ago.
On the city council, Wooden is notable only for trying to tag Hartford taxpayers with $60 million to fund a baseball stadium for wealthy Boston real estate developers. There's a fundamental difference between the two candidates. Coleman likes the people, Wooden has a taste for making working people support the rich.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.