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OP-ED | No Place for Fringe Candidates Dean and Whitnum in ’14 Race

by | Mar 21, 2014 8:10am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

Hugh McQuaid photo

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.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | March 21, 2014  11:42am

There’s “no place” for Dean or Whitnum? Are you kidding? In a political season that otherwise promises to be humdrum, a blonde head-to-head debate between Dean and Whitnum would provide entertainment. “No place”, indeed.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 21, 2014  1:23pm

I’m all for encouraging more candidates. The more provocative the better. The ones we have aren’t exactly setting the world on fire.

posted by: sanecitizen | March 21, 2014  1:26pm

Most rights activists don’t feel Dean is electable and likely won’t back her.

The portion of the opinion regarding gun rights seems like a liberal fantasy.  There are a quarter of a million various permit holders in the state, this not an insignificant number.  Membership in state orgs has been exploding and citizens are actively devoting funds and time to supporting lawsuits.

I apologize that you wish people would quietly give up their rights without contests but the past several decades have seen citizens struggle against popular opinion to secure constitutional rights.  From gay marriage, to civil rights and women’s equality there were always portions of the populace content to see another ersons right s restricted and there were those who stood up to oppose that injustice.

posted by: Matt from CT | March 21, 2014  1:30pm

>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.

Not well-financed, and “small” depends on what you consider small.

I’d argue they’re a modest sized, but very passionate, group.

I would say their opposition has knee-capped McKinney on the Republican side, and more likely than not factored into Don William’s decision not to seek re-election in a district split between rural but Democratic leaning towns and college towns; with the gun control vote in the background and a decent candidate it made him unusually vulnerable.

There was a reason he had previously voted against assault weapons bans, and I think this time he thought he could politically get away with it.

If they remain active, it will be these ways they bend the arc of the conversation.  It’s doubtful the Democrats will attempt another round of gun control as long as they realize such pandering to their base has a political price to pay, even if that price isn’t overwhelming.

And yes, the Democrats attacks on gun rights are pandering, just as Republicans down south pander to their base with equally petty and vindictive laws aimed at abortion rights.

posted by: Greg | March 21, 2014  3:21pm

Sure, Dean is plenty unelectable.  What Susan missed and what Matt/Sane touched on is a very mobilized pro-2A crowd that can and will vote in this election that are a little more numerous than “a handful”.  How many votes did Malloy win by in 2010? 5k-8K and duffel bags of ballots in Bridgeport?

We know at least 50K “registered” their “assualt rifles”, and likely there’s another 50-150k who didn’t.  So, who is going to sway the election this time? Likely the very angry, very mobilized gun owners who got steamrolled in the middle of the night by a faulty e-cert vote on a bill with no debate. All those grenade launcher and bayonet lug attacks surely justified that law.  McKinney a no-go, indeed.

Think 100k+ gun owners can’t sway this election?  May be just enough to get Foley over the finish line this time.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | March 21, 2014  4:17pm


I have to politely disagree with you. It is refreshing to see a politician stand up for certain values and policies that the bollockless Republican men will not do. What is unfortunate is how the women attack character and marginalize each others intelligence and talents. A.K.A. the Palin treatment.

Dean has taken note of Wisconsin Governor’s Scott Walker’s inroads with making that highly unionized controlled state into a right to work state, the reversing of its economy because of entrenched liberal smothering policies.  And an electorate who was seeing the damge being done to the state and knew there needed to be a change. Think the voters here are ready for a change? We will see. It will be interesting how she does. I will be watching closely and will be considering her as a choice.

There is an old saying, If you don’t stand up for something, you might as well not stand up. Dean has shown the courage to do that in a state in which passivity, not rocking the boat and being good little party member is the norm.

Semper Fi!

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | March 22, 2014  1:55pm

right on, No Nonsense.  this is precisely what we need!

there is a place for these 2, i hope they last a while.


posted by: SocialButterfly | March 24, 2014  9:51am

Let’s not write off Dean and Whitnum as just “Dames in Distress”  when there is “No Joy for Malloy.”

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