Tom Foley

Republican gubernatorial Candidate Tom Foley speaks to local reporters outside the Fusion Paperboard plant in Sprague Tuesday morning during a press event. (David Butler II / Special to The Courant / August 3, 2014)

Tom Foley never thought he would simultaneously have one son in Harvard and two toddlers in diapers.His life has taken multiple twists and turns that he would not have predicted, including becoming a father again later in life.

Those twists also included wearing a bulletproof vest in a dangerous assignment with temperatures routinely above 110 degrees while serving as the American economic development director in war-torn Iraq. That assignment under President George W. Bush came before a much safer, more prized job in Dublin as the American ambassador to Ireland.

Now Foley is back running for a second time to become governor of Connecticut, once again hoping to face Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrat who edged him in 2010 in the closest gubernatorial election in Connecticut in more than 55 years.

First, Foley must defeat Senate minority leader John McKinney of Fairfield in the Aug. 12 Republican primary.

At 62, Foley has entered a new stage in his life as his twins, Grace Quinlan and William Reed, will turn 3 years old in September. They recently appeared in his first campaign commercial, which was narrated by his wife, Leslie. Foley does not shy away from talking about his young family, playing with them in the commercial and volunteering details at campaign events.

During his opening remarks at the campaign's first debate in Rocky Hill, Foley introduced himself to the crowd by saying, "I'm a parent of 21/2-year-old twins. I know you may not believe that, but I am. We all think of our children and our grandchildren and the future — and what we are going to provide for them down the road from the work and policies and other things that we do today.''

He added, "It's particularly important now that we focus on the future and we make sure that we have the right policies to restore the prosperity, promise and pride that we all know Connecticut had a short three or four years ago. We can get it back, but we don't have it today.''

In an interview, Foley said the twists and turns are entwined with his habit of taking on challenges and his view of himself as a problem solver — with the theme running through the job in Iraq all the way to running for governor.

"I'm also somebody who is willing to take risks, and I think a lot of people wouldn't have taken the personal risk to go to Iraq, but that didn't bother me at all,'' Foley said. "It didn't affect my decision.''

After years as a major Republican fundraiser who helped national figures like Bush and former presidential candidate Bob Dole, Foley took another turn when he decided to "cross the line'' and become a candidate himself.

"I think running for office, to some people, would seem out of sync to having a business career,'' Foley said. "You lose your privacy. The dialogue is just very different from what you get in the private sector. You're sort of behind the scenes and not in front of the camera. Some people don't like that, but I decided to cross the line, and I'm glad I did. I think, ultimately, the people who make the most difference are the people who are actually in the leadership positions, in the offices.''

With a Harvard MBA, Foley spent much of his career in business at the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, Citicorp Venture Capital and his own private equity company that he formed in 1985. But politics was part of his family — his grandfather and namesake, Thomas Coleman, served as the Republican Party chairman in Wisconsin from 1951 to 1954 and helped run the presidential campaign of conservative Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio against the eventual winner and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"Politics was part of the dialogue in the household when I was growing up,'' Foley said. "Some people give to their church. Some people give to their university. Other people believe that getting involved in politics and leadership is a form of service and giving back to the community, and I'd say that on my mother's side of the family that was what their engagement was in the larger community.''

Despite never having served in elective office, Foley says his business background is actually an advantage in an executive, decision-making position like the governor. When dealing with state employee unions and others in the future, Foley says, "I'm pretty good at negotiating.''

Low Key

Foley has been running a relatively low-key primary campaign, generally avoiding public instances where Democratic opponents can show up and change the tone of the event. That happened recently when Foley called a press conference to decry the planned closure of the Fusion Paperboard plant in September and the subsequent loss of 145 jobs. Foley blamed Malloy for "anti-business policies'' that he said has driven jobs out of the state.

But Democratic state Sen. and Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten and some union members learned about Foley's appearance in advance, and Osten interrupted the news conference repeatedly to confront Foley. At times, Osten and the workers were asking more questions than the reporters in a confrontation that surprised the onlookers.

Democrats were absolutely delighted with the high-profile dust-up, saying Foley did not have his facts straight and releasing a 30-minute videotape that was captured by a campaign tracker.

But even after the blowback, Foley said in an interview that he was not bothered by the clash with the Democrats outside the plant.

"I'm very happy with it,'' Foley told The Courant. "The Democrats want to portray everything as having gone awry. But listen, any time attention is attracted to me talking about why Connecticut is losing jobs, that's a conversation I want to have. … The Democrats would have been much smarter not to send Senator Osten and the head of the union over there. They're helping me draw attention to it, so it's a good move. Did you look at all the press coverage? She got us a lot of earned media.''