HARTFORD — Joe Visconti has muscled his way onto the November ballot, securing at least 7,500 signatures in his grassroots quest for the state's highest office.
But the tea party Republican, critic of the Common Core and defender of gun owners' rights faces an even tougher challenge ahead. He now will compete against two candidates for governor — Democrat Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley — who have multimillion-dollar advertising budgets, massive, data-driven campaign organizations and Super PACs waiting to weigh in on their behalf.
Visconti, 57, is undaunted. The former town council member from West Hartford said he is hoping for a boost from national Second Amendment and tea party groups, but he isn't counting on it.
"All we have is the ground game,'' Visconti said Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after Secretary of the State Denise Merrill informed him that his petition drive was successful and he had qualified for the race.
Unlike Malloy and Foley, Visconti and his running mate Chester Harris, a former school board member from Haddam, are not participating in the state's taxpayer-financed campaign financing program. Instead, he will solicit donations on his website, enlist an army of volunteers and harness as much free media as he can.
"You do that when you don't have money and you aren't taking taxpayer money,'' Visconti said.
Visconti also plans to participate in debates and run ads, at least on cable television, to spread his message that Connecticut needs new leadership.
It is a message he hopes willl resonate with voters who are sour on both of the major party contenders. "Malloy is so disliked and I believe Tom Foley has shot himself in the foot too many times,'' Visconti said.
Critics dismiss him as a spoiler with no chance of winning.
"As a career candidate, Joe Visconti's campaigns tend to be more about seeking attention than actually mounting a legitimate challenge for any office,'' said Zak Sanders, spokesman for the Connecticut Republican Party. "While it is surprising that he was able to trick 7,500 voters into signing his petition, his candidacy will have no impact on this race."
Visconti, a long-time gun owner, has aligned himself with opponents of a sweeping new gun control law enacted in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, voiced apprehension that Visconti could complicate the group's primary objective this election cycle: unseating Malloy, a strong supporter of the gun control law.
"A concern that many have is that Joe could play some type of spoiler,'' Wilson said. "We just want to make sure Dannel Malloy is defeated in November. Tom is by far the better-positioned candidate to win than Visconti.''
Still, Wilson praised Visconti's effort. "That's not to take away from Visconti's positions,'' Wilson said.
"He did work hard to get his name on the ballot without the benefit of a huge budget."
Visconti, a 1974 graduate of Hall High School, first became involved in politics in his hometown during the battle against the Blue Back Square retail and housing development in the early 2000s. He was elected to the town council in 2007 and served one term. He also ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the 1st District in 2008.
A sharp dresser who favors cowboy hats, Visconti worked as a sound engineer and a stagehand and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City after graduating from the University of Hartford.
He has long had a flair for the dramatic: In 2012, he plastered a flatbed truck with campaign stickers supporting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris Shays. He rode around in the back of the truck, waving the "Don't Tread on Me" flag and blasting Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."
"Politics shouldn't be boring,'' Visconti said. "It shouldn't be all gloom-and-doom, negative ads … People are sick of that."
In addition to announcing that Visconti and Harris have qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of the state's office also announced that 5th Congressional District petitioning candidate John Pistone has qualified. It has yet to finalize the petitions submitted by another potential candidate for governor, former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Pelto.Copyright © 2015, CT Now