Heath W. Fahle
Nearly 16 months remain until Connecticut Republicans will choose their gubernatorial nominee, but the race has already started. Keep track of who is winning with this handy scorecard.

Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee released a memo summarizing the results of a poll this week showing that his name identification far exceeds that of three other potential candidates, House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, the Senate GOP leader John McKinney, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.

With not one candidacy officially declared, including that of the poll’s sponsor, a public opinion survey is a poor measurement of candidate quality and will remain so until much later in the race. It is also worth mentioning that a poll without a ballot test is like a car without an engine: someone should ask why it does not have one.

With this in mind, allow me to suggest a scorecard for the next year or so of the race. These six measures will help you identify whether a candidate is the frontrunner, one of the contenders, a pretender, or a gadfly.

The REAL Big Mo’: Money

It’s the mother’s milk of politics. Candidate campaigns wither or thrive on fundraising. The money pays staff, fills the car with gas, puts ads on television, and buys lawn signs. Money also is the best barometer of how well a candidate is doing in the other five categories on this list.

Mr. Foley starts the 2014 contest as the presumptive frontrunner for many reasons but this one is the biggest: his candidacy is fully funded on the first day. In 2010, the Foley campaign spent $12.6 million for the election cycle, $11 million of which was contributed by Mr. Foley himself.

Potential candidates Boughton, Cafero, and McKinney all participated in the state government-financed campaign system, the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP), in previous races and seem likely to use it again if they wage campaigns in 2014. The program requires statewide participants to raise $250,000 in maximum increments of $100 per donor.

A cursory review of 2010 financing suggests that this may be more difficult than some might think. Fewer than 7,000 Republicans contributed to statewide candidates in 2010, suggesting that a qualifying candidate will need to capture more than a third of likely donors for their cause. Fundraising results will quickly highlight who will be contenders versus pretenders. The gadflies won’t come close.

You Have to Earn It: Media

Connecticut’s geography may be small but communicating statewide requires a big effort. The ability to earn media attention helps candidates disseminate messages at a low cost. Case in point: More than two weeks removed from his “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” moment, Mr. Foley has emerged as a challenger not just to Malloy but also the status quo in Hartford as seen in the laudatory columns that followed.

The other potential candidates have shown they can earn media, too. Who does it the best, and who can convert media attention into money and endorsements will likely be the GOP nominee.

Endorsements & The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy

This one will be fun this cycle. For better guidance on the topic, we need to consult with a professional on the topic: Washington Post political guru and Marlborough, Conn. native Chris Cillizza. He offers The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy:

Here it is — ranked from most influential to least:

—The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.
—The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.
—The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008.
—The Newspaper Endorsement: Des Moines Register for John Edwards in 2004.
—Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.
—The Turnabout-Is-Fair-Play Endorsement: New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) endorsing Rep. Bill Owens (D) in the 2009 20th district special election.
—The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.
—The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder passing on state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 governor’s contest.
—The Pariah Endorsement: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) endorsing anyone.

The Connecticut GOP version might look something like this:

—The Symbolic Endorsement: Chris Shays/Rob Simmons/Nancy Johnson endorsements
—The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Former Gov. Jodi Rell throwing in with a candidate
—The Celebrity Endorsement: Seriously, a Chuck Norris endorsement would be awesome.
—The Newspaper Endorsement: Hartford Courant endorsement
—Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: Gov. Chris Christie backing a candidate in the race.
—The Turnabout-Is-Fair-Play Endorsement: Oz Griebel or Mike Fedele endorsing anyone not named Tom Foley
—The Obligatory Endorsement: Any state senator endorsing John McKinney or any representative backing Larry Cafero.
—The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Linda McMahon if she passes on endorsing anyone
—The Pariah Endorsement: George W. Bush and/or John Rowland

The next three are much more subjective:

The Credibility Gap

Do you know the issues and can you speak intelligently about them? Being ill-informed shows through no matter how much money you spend, media you earn, or endorsements you get. Mr. Foley created a policy institute to burnish his credentials in this area, and Messrs. Cafero, McKinney, and Boughton all have hands-on experience in government. The gadfly candidates tend to struggle here, along with everything else.

The Buckley Rule

Attributed to conservative icon William F. Buckley, the Buckley Rule is routinely cited by Karl Rove and others as support for “the most conservative candidate that can win.” The Rule asks adherents to blend the pragmatism of political expediency with enthusiasm for conservative principles. The candidate that best lays claim to the title is most likely to come out of a floor fight or primary contest with the Republican nomination.

Of course, Mr. Rove’s interpretation of the Buckley Rule is not the one remembered by those conservatives in the room when Mr. Buckley first crafted it. Neal Freeman recently wrote that the rule was actually about supporting the “rightwardmost viable candidate,” not the “rightwardmost electable candidate.” The battle rages on.

The Best Face for the Party

Readers of the Republican National Committee’s Growth & Opportunity Project are repeatedly reminded of how different the America of 2012 looks compared to the America of 1980. Though tone deaf Committee Members seem hellbent on undermining inclusiveness before it really begins, the point remains that the 2014 Republican candidate must appeal to a broader audience.

A growing number of Republicans nationwide are trying to buck the typecast recently described in one article: “Corporate greed.” “Old.” “Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.”

Candidates who will carry the Republican banner must be welcoming, inclusive, and more broadly representative of the state’s electorate. How each candidate stacks up on this point — and how well the primary electorate includes it in their consideration — may do more to describe Republican chances in the general election than any other factor.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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