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OP-ED | Taking Stock of Last Week’s Results, And Whatever Happened to Tom Foley?

by | Nov 15, 2013 5:38pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2010, Election 2013, Election 2014, Town News, Opinion

A few weeks ago I pointed to five things to watch for in this year’s municipal election results. The election last week did not generate a large wave in one direction or the other. There was a slightly higher turnout than in 2011, but nothing that broke the bank.

Mayor Mark Boughton’s gubernatorial ambitions got a boost from his very strong performance in Danbury, winning re-election by over a two-to-one margin. Democrats won in three out of the four towns I highlighted as potential pickups for them at the executive level. They won Stamford, Norwalk, and Norwich and lost in East Haven.

Yet they experienced shocking losses in New Britain, Meriden, and Ansonia that I didn’t see coming. West Haven was not the site of a stunner as the Democrat on the ballot won. West Haven is where I thought the Republican might have a chance because the incumbent was running as a write-in after losing the primary; the Republican got crushed anyway. Both parties had wins and losses that are more likely attributable to local factors than to an over-arching theme for the next election.

That brings us to this week and the question of what exactly is going on with Tom Foley. I am on record saying that Foley will be the Republican nominee for governor in 2014. All the factors still line up in his favor: a spilt field, lots of money, friends, and name recognition.

Since his exploratory re-announcement in September, however, we have been treated to a fundamentally different Tom Foley than the 2010 model. I know that it is blasphemous for me, as a Democrat to say this, but Tom Foley ran an absolutely great race in 2010. He was able to make himself seem non-threatening and not overly Republican, while also damaging Malloy. He came incredibly close to winning. If anyone can find an errant word he uttered or a personal mistake that he made in 2010, please show me. I don’t know of any.

But in 2013, the perfectly scripted Tom Foley seems to have completely disappeared. Instead, there is another Tom Foley who is making wild ethics allegations; claiming, without any proof, that his last election was stolen; and taking the most right-wing position available on the unpopular government shutdown.

All of this presaged Foley’s first ad, which features a New York Post front page calling then-New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio a communist. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek text then says Foley will save the state from Gov. Dan Malloy, who has policies similar to de Blasio’s, making Connecticut a good place to flee from New York in the new de Blasio regime. 

In another forum, Foley also told the heart-warming story of how he had been a New York City “refugee” from the Dinkins era.

What could possibly inspire such an ad? Foley chose to attack a man who was just elected mayor of the nation’s largest city by a margin greater than three-to-one. Yes, it was obviously more of a video press release than a serious ad buy. Yet questions remain: once you get beyond the New York Post caricature, what exactly is Foley’s problem with Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s message? Does Foley think income inequality is a non-problem? Or does he think a tax increase on the wealthiest to pay for universal pre-kingergarten would be a disaster?

More importantly, why is Foley launching his first ad in a way that ignores the four-fifths of the state who don’t pay any attention to the New York media market and thus don’t even know what Foley is talking about?

The fact is that a small number of people who make up the fiscal elite are not thrilled with de Blasio and his 99-percent campaign. But is Foley’s idea that the state of Connecticut should adopt policies to cater to this dissatisfied elite, a group who may or may not leave as a consequence of the new mayor? That is madness.

It is as if Foley thinks he’s running for governor of Greenwich. Although that is likely to keep him popular with his friends, it is not likely to win over the swing voters he needs. Most Connecticut voters would have chosen de Blasio over Lhota, too.

Foley seems to have learned the wrong lesson from 2010. He held himself in check during the last election, letting the voters read into him what they wanted. Rather than realize he almost won because of the effective use of this straightjacket, Foley now seems to think the straightjacket cost him the election, and he appears to have tossed restraint aside. We now see the real Tom Foley, and he is not the kind of person Connecticut elects to statewide office.

All of this would be good news for Dannel P. Malloy, except for one thing: Foley has been behaving so badly that he may have put his nomination in jeopardy. This is still a complicated matter. Despite all the flailing, Foley remains the front-runner. He benefits from having not one, but several challengers: Boughton, John McKinney, Toni Boucher, and some others.

Foley’s name recognition advantage, combined with all the friends he made running statewide last time, makes it very hard for him to lose a race in a multi-candidate field. At this point it is hard to see who, between Boughton and McKinney, would step down, particularly because a primary win would give either man a solid chance against Malloy. All of this is cause for the governor to be smiling. If he is re-elected, the question we will be asking is, whatever happened to Tom Foley?

Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: LongJohn47 | November 15, 2013  7:07pm

Foley is an empty suit, which should have been apparent to anyone who closely followed 2010.  What wasn’t clear then, but certainly is now, is that he’s also a loose cannon.  My money’s on McKinney for the nomination, with the election up for grabs.

posted by: robn | November 17, 2013  12:35pm

The GREEK is right. Foley’s bizarre behavior wouldn’t get him elected at this moment. The electorate has a short memory though and a polished campaign manager could pull it out of a nosedive. Remember that the last election was Malloy 49.5%, Foley 48.9%. Any idiot could wheel enough corpses to the polls to swing such a tight margin (if Foley lets him, that is).

posted by: Commuter | November 17, 2013  2:05pm

Agreed, LongJohn47. Smart money is on McKinney to get the endorsement of the party, Foley to contest by capitalizing on the activist base in the primary, for example the gun nuts, some of whom would vote Malloy before McKinney.

Boughton is the wild card, with a substantial base in the western region of Republicanland and statewide experience and contacts in the last election. He’s also the most talented retail politician in the republican field.

Dark horse Boucher most likely ends up a constitutional office candidate, probably for Treasurer. The Democrats can only dream that outlier Mark “proto-Christie” Lauretti runs and becomes the nominee for governor.

Kudos for deftly pivoting off the ill-advised course set on your last piece Jason, and on some well-made observations on Foley.

posted by: LongJohn47 | November 18, 2013  12:36am

McKinney certainly has alienated the gun rights people, but none of them would ever vote for Malloy.  I’m not sure they’d support Foley, either, but they’d certainly give him a look if he took up their issue.

Good point about Boughton’s party connections from the run in 2010.  The Ds can only pray for his candidacy.  His anti-immigrant pro-life views will help wake up the sleeping masses in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport and bring them out for Malloy.

posted by: Stan Muzyk | November 18, 2013  4:21pm

It’s much too early to speculate at this point. Have patience, Jason. However, you covered the waterfront nicely—at this early stage of the game.  Do not agree with LongJohn’s “short-tempered slams at Tom Foley.” However, coming from a liberal Democrat—he can only count suit’s in Tom Foley’s closet—as he does not care for and will obviously not really vote for any of the the three possible GOP candidates for governor. He likes McKinney only for conversation—and fears Foley by calling him “a loose cannon.”

posted by: Stan Muzyk | November 18, 2013  5:19pm

Commuter;  You agree with LongJohn and reflected his slam at Tom Foley “by taking a shot at Shelton’s great Republican Mayor Mark Lauretti—describng him as as “proto-Christie.”
Flattery will get you nowhere, Commuter—as you missed you missed your bus.

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