McKinney vows to run on the issues

Republican state Sen. John McKinney, who has proved you can hold one of the top positions in the state legislature, win eight straight legislative elections, and still have little name recognition among the masses, appears unwilling to do what it would take to become governor in 2015 - go negative.

This is actually admirable and probably smart.

Polls show McKinney, the Senate minority leader, badly trailing Tom Foley in what is now a two-man primary race for the Republican nomination. Foley is seeking a second shot at Dannel P. Malloy, who defeated him by about 6,000 votes in 2010.

Foley has the name recognition and, now, the money. The State Elections Enforcement Commission said last week that Foley had met the qualifying threshold of $250,000 in contributions of no more than $100 each. He receives a $1.4 million grant for the Aug. 12 primary and, if he wins, gets $6.5 million for the general election.

McKinney says he is close to qualifying, pooling resources with David M. Walker, a candidate for lieutenant governor. He expects to get the election commission's approval this week. McKinney said he would use the grant money to promote the differences between himself and Foley, while keeping it clean.

However, short of some self-destructive gaffe by Foley, going negative is what McKinney has to do to win. It is one of the laws of modern politics that when a candidate has much ground to make up, he or she must go negative and lower the frontrunner's approval numbers.

When he sat down recently with our editorial board, McKinney vowed not to do so.

"I want to tell people what my vision is, why I think it's the right direction for Connecticut. Why I think I am the better candidate to take on Dan Malloy and the better candidate to be governor. What I don't want to say is don't vote for the other guy because he's a bad guy," McKinney told us.

"I would rather lose with my dignity than win in a way that I don't think is the right way to wage a campaign. I expect win, but in the event I don't win, I want to make sure a Republican, Tom Foley, is elected governor. And I don't want a negative ad I might run to be used by the Democrats against him," McKinney told us.

It would be tough for McKinney to walk back such statements if he went nuclear against Foley. And if did so, he would end up damaging his own brand, hurt the party, and probably still not win. He seems to recognize the better option is to wage a fair fight, hope for the upset, but if unsuccessful, keep his party standing to fight another day.

As for the differences, McKinney suggested that Foley has gone soft when it comes to taking on the state labor unions as a way of lowering state spending. Recently speaking at the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention, Foley said he would not attempt to change collective bargaining rights for state employees, lay off state workers or seek to reopen their contracts.

McKinney said he would fight to reopen the contracts and said the state has to bring benefits for state employees in line with the private sector, including moving from fixed pension plans to 401(k)-type savings plans.

The challenger said his opposition to tolls, his more aggressive approach to cutting state spending, including creation of a state office of inspector generals to monitor state agencies, and his strong disapproval of the Common Core education standards, makes him the better choice for Republicans.

Those positions should appeal to many Republicans, but will probably not be enough to win a mid-summer primary when few are paying attention.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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