Foley, McKinney primed for the right to take on Malloy

Of the two Republican gubernatorial candidates on Tuesday's primary ballot, state Sen. John McKinney has experience in government that he could use to his advantage in the general election race against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Nov. 4, and Tom Foleycould campaign against the incumbent as an "outsider."

But only one of those strategies will be tried out - the one belonging to Tuesday's winner.

Foley, who narrowly lost to Malloy in 2010, won the endorsement of delegates at the State Republican Convention in May at Mohegan Sun. McKinney, who represents Fairfield and is the current Senate minority leader, earned enough votes to qualify for a primary.

Foley, of Greenwich, is considered the favorite to win Tuesday.

"I think McKinney has far more government experience and has the ability to go specific versus specific with the governor and point by point with the governor, and McKinney is also personally appealing," said Scott L. McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University. "He has a good personality. He seems to interact well with members of the public, so I think for that reason I feel McKinney would do better, but I don't think he will win the primary."

In a primary for the 2010 nomination, Foley won with 50,792 votes, former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele of Stamford got 46,989 votes and Oz Griebel of Simsbury got 22,390 votes. McKinney's spokeswoman, Jodi Latina, said their campaign is trying to capture at least those 69,379 votes that didn't go to Foley in 2010.

McKinney has served as a senator for 16 years and as minority leader in the Democrat-controlled Senate for seven. He has worked on bipartisan legislation, most recently including post-Newtown gun control law and a genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill.

After helping develop the Republicans' alternative state budget proposals, which were not passed by the General Assembly, McKinney voted against each state budget bill during Malloy's term.

McKinney voted in favor of Malloy's initial First Five program, which was designed to provide millions of dollars in low-interest loans for large companies in deals to create at least 200 jobs. Latina said McKinney voted for the bill because he thought the program would bring companies from outside the state into Connecticut instead of moving them from one part of the state to another.

Foley served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and directed efforts to privatize state-run Iraqi companies for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-led occupying government in Iraq.

He has been a business owner for 30 years, among other things founding the investment firm NTC Group, which arranged buyouts of struggling businesses, including The Bibb Co., a textile manufacturing group in Georgia. During the 2010 primary, Fedele ran ads that said Foley weakened Bibb by charging millions to turn around the company, which ultimately closed in 1998. During the general election, Malloy's ads criticized Foley for laying off 1,000 workers at Bibb. Foley disputed both statements and said he had sold the majority of his stake in the company by the time the layoffs occurred.

During the 2010 general election, Foley said Malloy had made so many pledges to labor unions that he wouldn't be able to negotiate savings from the unions and would have to raise taxes. Malloy and the General Assembly did raise taxes in 2011, by about $1.5 billion annually. Malloy obtained some long-term savings from state employee unions, such as requiring workers to contribute 3 percent of their salary for 10 years toward their retiree health insurance benefits.

Budget, tax cuts

Foley and McKinney have different perspectives on the budget and tax cuts.

McKinney has proposed spending cuts in fiscal year 2016 to close the $1.4 billion projected budget deficit that year. He has also proposed eliminating the corporate surcharge tax that fiscal year. Once spending is cut, he said, he would eliminate income tax for filers who earn less than $75,000, in fiscal year 2017.

Foley said he would hold spending flat for two years and reduce the state's 6.35 percent sales tax. He said he would also eliminate any taxes and fees that cost more to collect than they are worth and get rid of the $250 business entity tax for businesses with 50 employees or fewer.

The two also have different approaches to opening the state employees' pension and health care benefits contract before it expires in 2022. Foley said he would not attempt to reopen the benefits contract, while McKinney said he would fight to reopen it to obtain more concessions and that a 401(k)-style savings plan should be considered for new employees.

Both candidates have criticized Malloy's implementation of Common Core education standards. McKinney said he wants to scrap the whole program and give control to local school districts, while Foley said the state should fix schools that don't work but leave alone the ones that are performing well.

Gun control

McKinney's record of voting for the gun control bill could also make it difficult for him to win the primary, McLean said. McKinney supported the legislation after the shooting of 26 children and teachers in Newtown, which he represents.

"For a lot of the main Republican Party voters, this is a strike against him," McLean said.

The legislation banned the sale and possession of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines and required people who wanted to purchase rifles, shotguns and ammunition to complete safety training and obtain permits. When asked about the topic by an audience member on the campaign trail, McKinney said he would yield to the legislature when it comes to repealing the gun control law. Foley said on the public radio show "Where We Live" that a full repeal of the law is not likely. But if the legislature came to him with some changes that made the gun control law less inconvenient for law-abiding citizens, he would sign that.

Foley can use the fact that he is not a career politician to his favor, McLean said.

"I think that is the message that is more effective in this kind of a primary," McLean said. "The fact that McKinney says, 'You are vague and you are not being clear about taxes or how you would change the gun law,' McKinney is absolutely right on all those things, but that is not what the voters are really in the mood for. They are in the mood for someone who is outside of government and can generally be conservative and a familiar face."

Conversely, Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said he doesn't think Foley's strategy of saying he is an "outsider" will be as effective this time around.

"I would like to think that that big strain of thought in American politics kind of ran its course in 2010, and (what) you see around the country and maybe we will see in Connecticut is voters looking more kindly on people with government experience," Schurin said.

Running against Malloy

If Foley wins the primary and runs against Malloy in the general election, Schurin said he expects a "campaign of negatives." Foley would be able to point to teachers' dissatisfaction with Common Core, and Malloy would be able to point to the layoffs at The Bibb Co.

"Whoever is more disliked will be the loser," he said.

If McKinney were to win the primary, Schurin thinks he'd have "an edge" against Malloy. "He is not too highly known, but to the extent that he is, he doesn't have high negatives."

"And because he has a reputation of being more moderate on issues such as gun control, he could combine the Republican base with a greater share of independent voters than could Mr. Foley," Schurin said.

McLean said Foley and Malloy have similar personalities and "appear to be impatient with people who question them," whereas McKinney is "more successful at getting voters to actually connect with him."

The public tilts Malloy's way on policy issues such as raising the minimum wage, legalizing medical marijuana and implementing gun control laws, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in May. But voters "don't particularly like Malloy as governor," McLean said.

"I think McKinney would be able to work a strategy out where he could talk about being supportive of things that the voters would tend to prefer, yet provide a different kind of policy than Malloy and try to swing those undecided voters his way," McLean said.

Besides Malloy and the winner of the Republican primary, two other candidates could run in the general election if 7,500 of the signatures they have collected to petition onto the ballot are determined to be valid. Former Democratic state legislator Jonathan Pelto is trying to run as a third-party candidate on the recently created Education and Democracy Party ticket, and Joe Visconti, a Tea Party leaning Republican, is aiming to run as an independent. The decision as to whether each has 7,500 valid signatures won't be made public until after Aug. 20.

The three-way Republican primary for lieutenant governor is also on Tuesday. State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi of Stafford Springs is the endorsed candidate. Running with McKinney as a team is former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker. Groton Town Councilor Heather Bond Somers is also on the ballot.



Republicans John McKinney, center, and Dave Walker, right, running for governor and lieutenant governor, greet Mystic Seaport President Steven White, left, at City Pier in New London on Wednesday.
Republicans John McKinney, center, and Dave Walker, right, running for governor and lieutenant governor, greet Mystic Seaport President Steven White, left, at City Pier in New London on Wednesday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
Tom Foley accepts the nomination for governor at the Connecticut Republican Convention at Mohegan Sun on May 17.
Tom Foley accepts the nomination for governor at the Connecticut Republican Convention at Mohegan Sun on May 17. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Candidate biographies

Tom Foley
Age: 62
Hometown: Greenwich
Experience in public sector and business: Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, former director of private sector development for the Coalition Provisional Authority that aimed to privatize state-run Iraqi companies, business owner for 30 years.

John McKinney
Age: 50
Hometown: Fairfield
Experience: State Senate Minority Leader since 2007, state senator for 16 years, is the ranking member on the General Assembly's Housing and Legislative Management committees.

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