Connecticut Republicans are heading to the polls today to select a candidate to face incumbent Governor Dannel Malloy in what will likely be a very close race this November.
Tom Foley, battle-tested from the 2010 gubernatorial election which he lost to Malloy by just 6,000 votes, is expected to easily win the primaries against state Senator John McKinney ’86. McKinney has frequently sparred with the governor as senate minority leader but in the process accrued a moderate voting record alienating many party faithfuls. Foley won his party’s endorsement at the nominating convention in May. McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton each qualified for the primary by winning over 15 percent of delegate votes at the convention, but Boughton suspended his campaign in June and endorsed Foley.
On Monday, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill predicted that less than 30 percent of the state’s 400,000 registered Republicans will turn out to vote. That gives the race an element of unpredictability, according to Vincent Moscardelli, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.
“In these really low turnout affairs, strange things can happen,” Moscardelli said. “But none of the polling suggests this primary is going to be close.”
The two candidates spent the last few hours of the race trying to ensure their supporters make it to the polls. Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the Foley campaign, said the former ambassador to Ireland voted in Greenwich this morning and is spending the day shuttling across the state. He has greeted voters in Trumbull and made get-out-the-vote phone calls from his campaign headquarters in Southington.
McKinney said his campaign will focus on driving turnout in his hometown of Fairfield this afternoon when people get off work. Earlier today, the state Senator voted alongside his 18-year-old son, who cast a ballot for the first time. McKinney added that no matter how the race plays out, he’s glad to have spent the summer campaigning.
“I’m hoping I’ll be out campaigning tomorrow morning,” McKinney said. If he isn’t, he added, he’ll support Foley, who lead Malloy by nine points in a recent poll conducted by CBS News, the New York Times and YouGov. McKinney was not included in the poll.
Over the course of the summer, the Republicans fought hard to make their case to voters. Cooper said Foley has framed himself as a political outsider who can use his business skills to improve state governance. Meanwhile, Foley called McKinney a “career politician” at the last debate of the race on Sunday night,
McKinney has fired back by criticizing Foley for failing to offer detailed policy proposals, especially on fiscal issues. When the men clashed over McKinney’s support for a tax credit to lure companies to Connecticut, McKinney accused Foley of getting ahead by “talking like a Democrat.”
The exchange highlighted one of the difficulties McKinney has faced throughout the race. Because he is a state Senator, his position on a range of hot-button issues is already on the record. Foley has forced him to defend his support of SB 1160, which dramatically increased gun regulations after the Newtown massacre. Foley has criticized the law and McKinney’s role in crafting it, but has declined to answer questions about how he would respond to hypothetical future gun legislation.
Despite their differences, both candidates have pledged to support the winner of the primary against Malloy. Moscardelli said either could be well equipped to run against the governor. Foley has strong name recognition and experience running against Malloy, while McKinney may appeal to independents, a larger group than both registered Republicans and registered Democrats.
Though in theory anything could happen Tuesday evening, Moscardelli cautioned against expecting the unexpected.
“Foley is expected to win,” Moscardelli said. “We are expecting a really hard-fought battle in the general election. It’s not that complicated.”
In New Haven, there are about 48,000 registered Democrats and just over 2,400 registered Republicans.