Just two days before Election Day, Independent candidate Joe Visconti dropped out of the gubernatorial race and endorsed Republican Tom Foley.
Visconti — a social conservative, Tea Partier and “pro-Second Amendment” candidate — made his announcement Sunday afternoon during an appearance with Foley at the Republican headquarters in Brookfield. He said he had decided to drop out of the race Saturday afternoon when he saw a poll that showed him capturing 6 percent of the vote, with incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy ahead of Foley by three percentage points.
“If I can’t be governor, I want to help Tom be governor,” Visconti said at the event.
As recently as last week, Visconti criticized Foley as a weak candidate and pledged to see his race through to the end. Visconti could not be reached for comment on Sunday evening.
Though he has quit the race, Visconti’s name will still appear on the ballot on Tuesday. Vincent Mauro, town chair of the Democratic Party, said he expects that Visconti will still receive 2 or 3 percent of the “protest vote” from disaffected Connecticut voters who are unhappy with both party-nominated candidates.
Visconti’s announcement came as a surprise to Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University.
“Holy cow,” Rose said when a reporter from the News told him that Visconti had endorsed Foley. “Wow. Now that is very interesting.”
Rose said that Visconti’s announcement is likely to benefit Foley. But he noted that it is far from clear that all of Visconti’s supporters will now support the Republican candidate. A poll released by Quinnipiac University on Oct. 29 showed 7 percent of likely voters supported Visconti, with their second choice preference split about equally between Malloy and Foley. With Visconti in the race, Malloy and Foley were deadlocked 43–43. With Visconti out, Foley claimed support from 46 percent of voters to Malloy’s 45, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Amalia Halikias ’15, communications director for the Yale College Republicans and Yalies for Foley, said Visconti’s endorsement will prove significant and beneficial for Foley if Visconti actively encourages his supporters to turn out and vote for the Republican. She noted that the Democratic Party tends to have a stronger get-out-the-vote strategy in Connecticut, enabling them to get more voters to the polls on Election Day.
“A big fear is that even with this poll bump that we see now that Visconti has dropped out, the Democrats’ ground game will still be able to defeat Foley,” Halikias said.
Democrats pointed to Visconti’s endorsement of Foley as evidence that the Greenwich Republican, who spent most of his career in venture capital and served as the ambassador to Ireland, is further right than he claims to be.
Foley previously received endorsements from the pro-gun group Citizens Defense League and the Family Institute of Connecticut, a pro-life organization that also opposed gay marriage.
“Make no mistake, Tom Foley is in the pocket of the right wing extreme gun lobby and today’s announcement is further proof,” Malloy campaign spokesman Mark Bergman said in an email.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the Foley campaign, said he was pleased that Visconti’s announcement will unite the Connecticut Republican Party behind one candidate.
Foley and Visconti met Saturday night at the home of Visconti’s 78 year-old mother to discuss the endorsement, Visconti said at the press conference Sunday afternoon.
Rose speculated that the two had struck a deal that would give Visconti a position in the Foley administration, should he defeat Malloy on Tuesday. At the press conference, however, Visconti claimed he had made the decision to drop out without concessions from the Foley campaign. Reached Sunday evening, Foley Communications Director Mark McNulty reiterated that point.
Ron Schurin, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said Visconti was likely considering his future political fortunes as he decided to drop out.
“If he’s looking to have a future in the Republican Party, this was the thing that he had to do at this point,” Schurin said. “He might look for an appointment in the Foley administration or he might look to run for office on a statewide ticket at some point in the future.”
Halikias and YCR President Andrea Barragan ’16 noted that Visconti’s announcement came too late for those who had already cast absentee ballots in favor of Visconti — they will not be able to change their votes.
Barragan also expressed concern that Visconti’s name will still be printed on ballots distributed Tuesday. Those who do not hear that he dropped out might vote for him. Overall, however, Barragan said she was glad Visconti had dropped out.
“I think it’s better late than never,” she said.
Visconti did not receive enough support at the party convention in May to qualify for the Republican primary in August. But he petitioned to have his name on the ballot by submitting 10,000 signatures of support to the secretary of the state.