Published July 27. 2014 4:00AM
Tom Foley, the Republican front runner in the race for governor, likes to distinguish himself from his opponents as the only outsider, the only candidate not tainted by having been elected by the people. It's sometimes effective because it allows candidates who have never been elected to anything to brush off their inexperience by capitalizing on the mistrust elected politicians have frequently brought upon themselves. It makes inexperience a virtue.
Some office holders even try to portray themselves as semi-outsiders. Remember how Gov. George W. Bush, a product of the politics of Texas, of all places, hissed the words "Washington, D.C." as if he were describing Sodom or maybe just Gomorrah?
Those who seek high office unsullied by prior elected office are usually wealthy individuals who may not have paid their dues electorally but made up for it with large campaign contributions. In Connecticut before Foley, there was Linda McMahon and other rich folks given nominations the party was often unable or unwilling to finance. Apparently not excited about the prospect of spending more of his fortune on campaigning, this time Foley is public campaign financing.
Although Foley's never been elected to anything, his political journey has taken him pretty close to insider status in his party. His generosity to President Bush II bought him a post he doesn't talk about because it was supposed to help bring democracy to Iraq. Then came one of those prestigious ambassadorships presidents use to pay back big donors. Foley got Ireland.
And now, he's using his outsider status as an excuse - albeit a poor one - for playing the old game of making promises without the burden of providing specifics.
Ever since the legislature passed and the governor signed a gun law in response to the Newtown tragedy, Foley has been doing a little dance around the law, trying to woo the gun lovers while not offending the rest of the electorate. Since gun lovers may find their way to the polling place in greater numbers than many other voters in a terribly timed August primary, keeping them happier with him than Republican opponent John McKinney, who voted for the bill, is important and not very difficult.
So all Foley usually says is something like this: "If I had been governor at the time, the bill would have been very different." Then he might add he would have focused on mental health issues and crime in the (Democratic) cities. That's what he got away with in his recent debate with McKinney until reporters confronted him afterwards. The Hartford Courant's Chris Keating recounted the exchange on courantblogs.com.
Asked if he favored restrictions on large-capacity magazines and automatic rifles, he said since he wasn't governor, "I don't have to articulate and outline a bill because I don't have the staff to do that."
Maybe he should get a staff.
While Foley evaded, McKinney distorted. His first ad had Foley saying - twice -"I'm not going to cut spending." Public radio station WNPR discovered the sound bite was edited from an interview it had with Foley. McKinney's people edited the audio clip and paired it with a video to have Foley saying something else.
In the interview, Foley actually said, "I'm not saying I'm not going to cut spending, I'm saying I'm going to hold spending flat" from which someone at McKinney's ad agency cut 11 of the 17 words. The clever cutting had him say only, "I'm not going to cut spending."
Did the edit change what Foley actually said? Absolutely. If a reporter did that, he'd be fired.
But in his second ad of the season, Foley took some liberties with McKinney's record too, charging he voted to raise taxes several times and cited one. But it was a gasoline tax hike proposed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell to finance badly needed transportation projects. The bill was supported by most of the House and every member of the Senate.
McKinney has more than a decade of voting to answer for; Foley has none. That's one of the benefits enjoyed by outsiders. There's less to use - or misuse - against them.