Pundits often want to expand the number of options available in making electoral predictions. This is particularly true when elections are far off. It makes it less likely they will be out-and-out wrong as well as allowing them to make nice with all the candidates who are “plausible.” It is not, however, a good way to actually predict what will happen. Making things seem less certain than they are might be safer, but it isn’t smarter.
That seems to be what’s going on with predictions about the Republican candidates for governor. Along with Foley, two names are consistently being floated: Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who each face their own challenges. The reporting on the race also exhibits a certain tentativeness and an assumption that more names may surface. Overall, the impression is of a race that has not really yet begun.
So let’s start off by acknowledging the obvious: Tom Foley is a candidate for Governor. For months, pundits pretended that Foley was considering a run when he was already in campaign mode. In reality, he never really stopped running after losing in 2010. The other “candidates” the pundits cite are closer to being potential candidates. Until they actually declare, they are basically dithering.
From there it is also clear that Foley starts off as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination and by a fairly wide margin. I put the odds at winning the nomination at more than 4-to-1.
Conventional wisdom would argue that it’s still early, that such speculation more than a year from the primary is premature. The old story line is that people haven’t started paying attention yet, and therefore there is a good likelihood that when they do, things will change. Everyone will take a good look at all the candidates and reassess their positions. Consequently, any current advantage in the polls — Foley’s internal poll has him as the only Republican known statewide — is ephemeral.
Recent history, however, has shown how hard it is to get people to take another look at a race. In 2010, both the nominees who won their party’s endorsement at the convention also took the primary. Only five candidates from both parties even made it onto the ballot, even though at one point about a dozen candidates were running. Foley, as his polling shows, has a very large lead in name recognition. This lead means he will have the high ground throughout the entire Republican campaign, meaning all the other candidates will be taking shots at him from a weaker position.
Additionally, Foley functions as the de-facto incumbent in this race. It is hard to imagine why Republicans would not re-nominate him; he lost by only 6,400 votes in 2010. Even after Linda McMahon’s ten-point defeat in the 2010 Senate race, she was easily re-nominated as the 2012 Republican Senate candidate over what looked like a strong opponent in Chris Shays. Who left in the Republican field of gubernatorial candidates has anything like the advantages that Chris Shays should have had in his race against McMahon?
Foley also has the advantage of not getting on the wrong side of the Republican base on guns, taking a cleverly worded position on the Connecticut gun bill. And Foley has a nearly endless amount of money to fund the race. With all of these advantages, and no clear declaration from any of the other candidates, it seems more likely that Foley will run unopposed than that he will lose a primary. This may spoil the pundits’ party, yet it is time to prepare for Foley-Malloy, Round Two.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.