To help ticket, Somers needs to be candid, quickly

Heather Somers pulled it off. In the primary for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, she managed to get more votes than both the state representative who was the choice of the Republican convention and a former U.S. comptroller general. That is impressive.

It is not too often you see someone win an election with just 34.6 percent of the vote. But in a race in which Republicans divided their votes almost equally among the three candidates, that was enough.

Looking at the results, a couple of numbers jump out. Somers, who lives in Groton, ran strong in New London County, getting 3,108 votes to 1,737 for David Walker, the former comptroller general, and 1,695 for state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, the choice of the convention. It suggested a yearning from local Republicans for the region to have a greater voice in positions of power in Hartford.

Yet as impressive as her margin of victory was in her backyard, what sealed the deal was how well Somers did on the other end of the state, taking wealthy Fairfield County with 7,350 votes to 7,009 for Walker and 6,206 for Bacchiochi.

That suggested a strong ground game and showed Somers' ability to make connections with the right people in southwestern Connecticut, the state's Republican stronghold. The performance had to sting Walker, who ran as team with gubernatorial candidate state Sen. John McKinney. Though McKinney lost by a fairly wide margin to Tom Foley, he did well on his home turf, beating Foley in Fairfield County 13,303 to 9,724.

Walker had bet on some of that McKinney support rubbing off on him, but Somers had other plans.

Recall that Somers, a Groton town councilor, had also entered the race as part of a duo, a partner to gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton, the Danbury mayor and the lieutenant governor candidate on the Foley ticket in 2010. Early on Somers made the calculation that wasn't working for her.

Boughton was counting on Somers' ability to raise donations to help him qualify for public financing. Somers realized she should could qualify for funding on her own, and have full control in spending it. Dumping Boughton, she briefly faced criticism for disloyalty, but it proved to be a wise decision. She got the money - $406,275 from the state - to run a winning campaign; Boughton ended up dropping out after failing to gain the public campaign funds.

Bacchiochi, meanwhile, was hurt by campaign missteps. At the convention, Bacchiochi speculated that the Walker campaign was trying to make an issue of her biracial marriage, only to retract the comments and apologize. Later she fired an aide for saying Somers had displayed "white privilege" by showing "arrogance and belittlement of Penny's and her family's feelings."

The incidents likely made many Republicans weary of putting Bacchiochi on the ticket for fear of what might happen next.

As a successful businessperson with experience serving in municipal office - Foley has never held an elected position - Somers can benefit the ticket. She provides gender diversity and is skilled at speeches and personable working a room.

Somers also brings a potential liability. In 2000, her medical technology company obtained a $1 million boost from the state Community Development Authority. The company grew. She and her partners sold Hydrofera in 2012 - the price was not disclosed - and she remains a paid consultant. It is a success story. However, the company returned only $475,000 to the state.

Foley has criticized such "corporate welfare" by the Malloy administration, yet now he has someone who benefitted from a state investment as his running mate. Worse yet, details of the state's help remain murky.

The Foley-Somers campaign should move quickly to release every detail about the state investment in the company, its sale price, how Somers was compensated and why the state received only $475,000 under the deal - then move on.

The alternative is to face weeks of questions and stories as details dribble out. This will likely only become a big problem if the campaign mishandles it.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
Twitter: @Paul_Choiniere

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