Republican Second Amendment defender and Tea Party activist Joe Visconti added heat to an already tight governor’s race in Connecticut when he qualified to appear on the November ballot last week.
Gun control looms large over the gubernatorial contest after the incumbent, embattled Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, signed a package of reforms into law in the wake of the Newtown shootings, making the state one of the strictest in the nation for gun carriers. Malloy’s challenger, Republican Tom Foley, has not stated a clear position on the gun law.
Visconti, an ardent gun rights defender, gives Second Amendment enthusiasts an option other than Tom Foley, who has frustrated many Republicans by dancing around the issue. Visconti has been clear in his opposition to the act and his intention to repeal it if elected.
“Mr. Foley has not been willing to speak candidly about his position [on gun violence prevention],” said State Senate Majority Leader Democrat Martin Looney. “I think a candidate should speak forthrightly on such an important issue.”
Looney said that, in contrast, Visconti has characterized himself as a “Texas-style Republican” regarding the issue of gun control.
Foley is currently seeking the endorsement of the Connecticut Citizen’s Defense League (CCDL), a non-partisan organization for gun rights. Looney noted a CCDL endorsement for Foley over Visconti would effectively neutralize the latter’s advantage with second amendment voters.
The CCDL has not officially endorsed a candidate for the general election, but CCDL President Scott Wilson questioned the merit of supporting a dark horse candidate.
“[Visconti] is a good guy but the stakes are too high in supporting someone who is too far off the beam for people to gamble on,” he said.
Wilson added that voting for Visconti would be a “waste of time, energy, and resources.” Still, he and Looney both acknowledged that the upcoming election will be close and Visconti could upset the race.
If did get the CCDL endorsement, he could potentially split the conservative vote with the support of gun owners, giving Malloy an edge in the race this fall, Looney said.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS), gun owners represent a considerable chunk of Connecticut voters. NICS reported that over 150,000 Connecticut residents underwent background checks to obtain firearms during the first seven months of 2014. This statistic does not include gun owners who underwent checks before 2014 or those owning illicit firearms, two factors that would likely inflate the number of gun owners in the state.
Overall, 1.1 million Connecticut residents voted in the last gubernatorial election held in 2010.
Yale College Democrats’ Elections Coordinator Tyler Blackmon ’16 said the upcoming election will give student voters a chance to support Malloy’s vision of progressive change in the state, adding that the Yale Dems will campaign for the incumbent governor in November.
“Certainly the Yale Dems won’t complain if [Visconti] draws votes away from Foley,” said Blackmon.
“Governor Dan Malloy stepped up and pushed for the country’s most aggressive response to gun violence yet, even though he knew he would invite fierce criticism from groups like the NRA and Tea Party extremists like [Visconti],” Blackmon said. “So if [Visconti] wants to enter this race and criticize the governor’s difficult decision two years ago, let him run.”
Andrea Barragan ’16, president of the Yale College Republicans, noted that while Visconti’s candidacy might compromise Foley’s chances in November, it is also possible that Visconti could have a minimal impact on the race.
Barragan said Foley will have the support of the Yale Republicans, despite his ambiguous gun stance, because he seems better positioned to defeat Malloy.
“That’s not to say that Visconti’s efforts aren’t laudable,” Barragan added. “We have recently seen an insurgency of anti-establishment candidates who have brought attention to their causes but not much victory.”
The general election will be held on Nov. 4.