OP-ED | No Place for Fringe Candidates Dean and Whitnum in ’14 Race
The Martha Dean moment is already over.
Dean only just announced her intention to run for governor, but her impact on the race will never be larger than it is now. That sound you hear is Republicans breathing a sigh of relief.
Dean is an attorney and gun rights activist from Avon who ran for attorney general in 2002 and again in 2010. Her most notable claims to fame before jumping into the governor’s race were suing her 2010 opponents and posting a link to a Newtown “truther” video on her Facebook page a month after the shootings.
But last week she burst back onto the scene with an announcement on the website of the Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League, a pro-gun group, that she was planning on seeking the Republican nomination for governor. On Wednesday, she officially entered the race with what has to be described as a strange, rambling, hour-long speech to a handful of supporters at the Old State House. Really. She described in vivid detail a dream she had about Ronald Reagan in which he visited her carrying a canary, said she believed she’d been sent by God to be a “true blessing” on our benighted little state, and described the media as “vermin” and “snakes.”
So what, if any, is the actual impact of someone like Martha Dean busting through the wall of what’s been a dull campaign like a blond, gun-toting Kool-Aid Man? I hate to disappoint everyone who’s waiting for her to make waves and shake things up: other than the spectacle, her impact’s going to be minimal.
There’s reasons. First, Republicans believe they have a fantastic shot at actually winning this year, so embracing a candidate who speaks to the heart far more than the brain is probably a bad idea. Tom Foley remains a relatively safe choice, with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton a safe alternative should Foley’s various stumbles start to become a problem.
Foley doesn’t excite conservative passions, but neither does Dean. Only a few dozen people ventured into Hartford for her announcement speech; she’d called for “thousands.” Also, she’s only raised about $5,000 of the $250,000 she needs to qualify for public financing. That’s not a good sign.
Secondly, the issue that Dean is front and center on, rolling back restrictions on gun ownership and overturning Connecticut’s sweeping new gun control legislation, is just not a big deal for more than a handful of very loud people in this state. A Quinnipiac Poll in June, 2013 showed 57 percent in favor of the new gun control laws. There’s little to suggest that gun rights advocates are anything but a small, well-financed minority. The gun fight is over in Connecticut, though gun advocates don’t seem to realize it yet. The fall election will turn on the economy, not guns, and their narrow window of opportunity will shut for good.
Lastly, this is not a good year to be a fringe candidate. Wild-eyed candidates with fire in the belly are arousing suspicion more than they are passion. There’s no national wave building like in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and there’s no major issues animating primary voters on either side. Instead, campaigns are digging in for a re-run of 2012’s grim war of attrition.
This is bad news if you happen to be someone trying to break in from the far back of political beyond. Last Monday, Lee Whitnum, of Greenwich, also decided, for reasons unknown, to get into the governor’s race herself. She’s a Democrat, and as several people correctly noted, she’s the only declared Democrat officially in the race so far (Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is waiting until just before the convention to announce). Her platform mostly seems to consist of getting rid of judges she doesn’t like. Considering how many lawsuits she’s filed and subsequently lost, that’s probably quite a lot of them.
There’s very little opportunity for either Whitnum or Dean to do anything much before the conventions in May. Malloy and Foley aren’t debating, and neither Dean nor Whitnum has the money to launch any kind of effective attack on the frontrunners. The biggest impact Dean could have would be to attract enough people from her particular piece of the fringe to the convention to drag a reluctant Tom Foley mildly rightward on gun rights. That’s it. As for Whitnum, Democrats will do their best to ignore her, and by and large they’ll succeed.
There’s just no room in a race that already feels set in stone for Dean, Whitnum, or any other candidates like them. “I am not fishing for votes, I’m fishing for souls,” Dean said in her announcement speech. She won’t get much of either.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.