OP-ED | What We Learned from Primary 2014
The primary is over, and the main event has begun at last! Unfortunately, it’s a rerun from 2010: Tom Foley will be facing Dan Malloy during a year where the economy is lousy and everyone’s miserable.
But before we bid the primary goodbye, let’s take a look at some of what we learned:
Tom Foley is resilient — We sort of knew this one already, but it bears repeating. Former Ambassador Thomas C. Foley has suffered through a series of self-inflicted wounds that would have doomed many other candidates, from the wild, unsubstantiated accusations he threw at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy at the start of his campaign to the botched photo op outside a closing factory in Sprague a few weeks ago. Foley has looked lost in debates, his Republican opponent, John McKinney, savaged him in a series of ads. He lost the endorsement of nearly every major paper, and as the primary drew nearer, it seemed like Republicans might be wavering on him.
He won convincingly. The map of the primary for governor shows Foley winning all over the state by huge margins, losing only in McKinney’s own backyard. McKinney couldn’t even close the gap, much less win, anywhere except places near to his state senate district and a stretch along the coast. Foley even won Sprague.
But I have to wonder, is this resilience or is this luck? Foley hasn’t really had to take a clear position on gun rights, but McKinney, who represents Newtown, voted for the gun control bill. This infuriated gun rights groups. But, truth be told, the moderate McKinney has been on the outs with the party base for a long time. McKinney ran the better campaign, had better knowledge of policy, and had a better shot of grabbing Democrats disenchanted with Malloy in the fall. But McKinney’s party hated him, so Foley bumbled into the winner’s circle.
It may not matter whether it’s resilience, luck, or something else. Foley’s still standing.
Bacchiochi lost at the convention — Yes, State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford, won the endorsement of the Republican convention. But she also went after former U.S. Comptroller David Walker with a racism charge for which she later admitted she had no evidence. Things got worse in July when a campaign worker accused former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers of displaying “white privilege,” which is a very mild way of saying she’s clueless about race, but that turned already sensitive white Republicans off of her campaign.
The map of the lieutenant governor’s race is interesting — a lot of it is based on geography. Bacchiochi won in the north, Somers in the southeast, and Walker in parts of Fairfield County. But Walker was also able to win in parts of Hartford County that Bacchiochi should have picked up, like Windsor and East Granby, and Somers did pretty well in Fairfield County as well. Somers and Walker should have been regional candidates. But Bacchiochi’s troubles meant Republicans actually gave her opponents a look, and so what should have been an easy run to victory turned into a tight three-way scramble.
Bacchiochi wasn’t helped by a campaign that seemed disorganized and slow to respond to quick hits from Somers, but in the end she lost this one by triggering Republican twitchiness about race.
Voters aren’t interested in taking chances — Primary night left us with a slate of relatively safe choices. Foley’s a known quantity, and Republicans are comfortable with him. Somers is something of a question mark, but Republicans seemed a little worried Bacchiochi might blow up in their faces. Most incumbents won their races, with two exceptions in Bridgeport. One of those was freshman state Rep. Christina Ayala, whose legal problems ranged from a hit-and-run to a later-dropped charge of domestic violence.
It’s going to be a nasty fall — It only took one day for the Malloy campaign to release their first anti-Foley ad, bashing him for insulting and blaming workers and local officials for a plant closing Sprague. It’s very similar to an ad the McKinney campaign cut during the primary. On Thursday, the Malloy campaign’s Twitter account released an image of Foley sitting in with balcony hecklers Waldorf and Statler from “The Muppet Show,” with the caption: “It’s easy to criticize from the cheap seats — just ask these guys.” Zing?
It's easy to criticize from the cheap seats — just ask these guys: pic.twitter.com/JzYueTAWNP— Dan Malloy (@DanMalloyCT) August 14, 2014
Democrats are in a funk, and a righteous fury aimed at Foley might actually get some of them to the polls in November, so get ready for an onslaught. If this primary has taught us anything, it’s that campaigns are ready to do whatever it takes to win.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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