Collins: Foley survives Sprague attack, so far

When we look back at the summer of 2014, by the time Election Day rolls around in Connecticut this November, I think there are a few things we will all remember.

One will be the unusual summer weather, dry days, cool nights and a brush with a major hurricane the first week in July, something meteorologists say we haven't seen in 50 years.

The most memorable political theater of the summer of 2014 will certainly be gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley's swing through Sprague, the day state Sen.-First Selectwoman Cathy Osten chased his campaign bus through town, practically biting the tires, like a mad dog.

Foley, turning up in Sprague to blame a plant closing and the loss of 140 jobs there on Gov. Dannel Malloy, was ambushed by pro-union Osten and some of the dislodged plant workers who turned up to attack the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Foley, stepping out of a BMW, business suited, looked very much the rich Republican candidate from Greenwich. He also looked stunned as Osten, a former prison guard, went after him in front of a gaggle of reporters, calling him insensitive, unprepared, opportunistic and out of touch, hardly letting him get a word in at his own press conference.

"Do you talk over everybody?" an exasperated Foley finally asked Osten, as she first complained that he was an hour late to his press conference, before she went on to dominate it.

As Republicans turned out across the state in light numbers to vote Tuesday, I headed out to the scene of the Foley-Osten smackdown, to see if it might have as much impact on this year's gubernatorial race as many pundits have suggested.

Indeed, Foley's opponent in Tuesday's primary, state Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, beat Malloy to the Osten punch, using video from the Sprague confrontation in his most recent campaign advertisements.

I actually thought the McKinney ad was a little unfair in that it suggested Foley blamed workers for the plant closing, when a careful viewing shows that he clearly directed his criticism at Malloy and the Democratic governor's lead cheerleader in Sprague. "You failed, ma'am," Foley said over and over again to Osten.

The Sprague ad was a sour note in what was a pretty effective underdog campaign, as McKinney took a lot of precise shots at Foley's waffling, non-issues campaign in the closing weeks before the primary.

The theme of Foley's campaign was essentially: I'm a successful businessman. Trust me. I'll fix your broken state. Let's not sweat the details.

I got the sense in chatting with folks in Sprague, where registered Democrats about outnumber Republicans two to one, that the Foley-Sprague confrontation did not change many minds.

A lot of Republicans already find Osten domineering and controlling, a prison guard run amok in government. Those people thought Foley a hero that day for standing up to her.

Many Democrats certainly like her, since they keep electing her.

Not many minds were changed on either side.

I couldn't help, while driving around Sprague, but think that Foley's visit to the economically challenged former mill town was a good place for an aspiring governor to learn some lessons about Connecticut's economic problems.

Foley indeed looked like a glossy Fairfield County interloper in Sprague. But I think he was probably right that the triple-dipping Osten - with her state senator and first selectwoman salaries and prison pension, she may be in Sprague's 1 percent of top earners - should take some responsibility for a company closing its plant on the heels of a generous Democrat-sponsored aid package.

So now it will be Malloy's turn, if he so chooses, to go after Foley with video footage of the Osten attack. The state punditry predicted a Malloy advertisement of the Sprague press conference, hours after the first video clips went online.

I'm not sure that would be such a good idea.

At the end of the day, and certainly at the end of the primary season, Foley made the point in Sprague that he meant to when he set out for rural eastern Connecticut in his BMW that day: Plants are closing in Connecticut, even ones operating on generous Malloy corporate subsidies.

I think McKinney might have been a harder candidate for Malloy to beat than Foley.

But now that we have a Foley-Malloy rematch shaping up, the governor has a lot to worry about.

I suspect Foley will start sweating the details in his next campaign.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

Twitter: @davidcollinsct

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