Republicans could win CT governor’s race in 2014, just not with Tom Foley
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 23:09
At the April 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, Jimmy Kimmel joked, “Some people say Mitt Romney won’t be elected president because he’s Mormon. I think that’s ignorant. This country is more open-minded than that. We elected an African-American president. We would absolutely elect a Mormon president.” Then Kimmel paused and added, “Just not Mitt Romney.”
Similarly, some people say Tom Foley won’t be elected Connecticut governor because he’s a Republican. This state is more open-minded than that. We would absolutely elect a Republican governor. Just not Tom Foley.
After announcing his exploratory bid last week, Foley instantly jumped to the status of presumed frontrunner for the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Dannel P. Malloy if he seeks a second term. But somebody please explain why he’s the frontrunner exactly?
This is a man who has literally never won a single political election in his life. In about half the states, inexperience and the ability to claim outsider status are considered political assets (particularly in the South, which almost made pizza store owner Herman Cain the presidential nominee). Connecticut is not one of those states. Look at the failed campaigns of Linda McMahon or Ned Lamont the past few years for proof. Or look at the prior positions of our last four governors, from most recent going back: mayor of Stamford, the fourth-largest town by population; lieutenant governor; U.S. congressman; and U.S. senator.
Foley’s main claim to fame is losing the 2010 election for governor. You might remember 2010 was a year of unprecedented conservative surge, led by disillusionment with President Obama and Tea Party enthusiasm. There were 12 states that year that switched from Democratic to Republican governors, not to mention New Jersey and Virginia doing so in 2009, the year before. Connecticut had elected Republican governors the previous four consecutive elections, so presumably the party held the inherent advantage going into 2010 as well. Yet Foley lost in a year in which nationally Republicans practically had to be trying in order to lose.
In 2014, Foley will be at an even greater disadvantage. This time around he pledges to limit his campaign expenditures by accepting public funds, unlike last time when he spent $11 million of his own personal fortune that Malloy was unable to match. Also Malloy has the advantage of incumbency, and it has been many decades since a Connecticut governor last ran for reelection and lost. True, Malloy does not have Chris Christie approval rating levels. But he seems a far cry away from a virtually guaranteed loss.
Foley’s best chance of electoral success would seemingly be to adopt a campaign theme saying “If you had elected me last time instead of Malloy, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now I’m giving you a second chance to do what you should have four years ago.” While Connecticut is hardly living its glory days, there is a fatal problem with this strategy.
Although Connecticut is clearly not in a great position at the moment, it seems doubtful that most voters think we would be in a substantially better position if Foley had been governor instead. In a state that last November voted for Democrat President Obama by more than 17 points and Democrat Chris Murphy for Senate by more than 11 points, clearly Connecticut is overwhelmingly denouncing the Republican platform at the polls. Obama won last year in large part because even though the national economy was poor, voters still liked his policies better than his opponent’s. Connecticut voters likely feel the same way about Malloy.
Not to mention the giant X factors of personality and likability. Malloy appeared on my UCTV talk show last year, and talking about his college days he mentioned that he met his wife “on April 6, 1974.” I asked whether it was love at first sight. “Well,” Malloy said, “it was for me!” Even if you disagree with Malloy on everything, you have to like a guy who gives an answer like that. By contrast, Foley looks, acts, and talks like the greedy banker from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Could the Republicans win back the governor’s mansion? Sure. The current occupant won the house by the thinnest margin in decades, less than one percent of the total vote. Since then, our economy has been down and our unemployment rate has been high. Malloy could absolutely lose. But if the Republicans nominate Foley again, he won’t.