(Updated 2:40 p.m.)Senate Minority Leader John McKinney announced his entry into the 2014 governor’s race with a press release Tuesday morning.
McKinney, a Fairfield Republican, said he has filed the necessary paperwork to establish a candidate committee and is beginning to seek donations to qualify for the state’s public financing system. The documents announcing his candidacy were mailed to the State Elections Enforcement Commission by mail.
“There is a better way to manage state government – one that doesn’t waste, or abuse taxpayer dollars; one that will restore economic prosperity and help reduce unemployment; and one that will protect our quality of life and ensure that our children have even better opportunities to succeed than the generation before them,” he said in a statement.
McKinney is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy next year. Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican nominee who lost to Malloy by a slim margin, is also expected to seek the nomination.
In 2010, Foley did not take part in the public campaign finance system and spent about $11 million of his own fortune. He lost to Malloy by a slim 6,404 votes after a recount of some of the ballots.
To qualify for the Citizens’ Election Program McKinney will need to raise $250,000 in small contributions under $100 in order to leverage $1.25 million for the primary and $6 million for the general election.
The Quinnipiac University poll in June had Foley leading the Republican primary pack with 36 percent, followed by McKinney with 11 percent, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton with 8 percent, and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, who announced he wouldn’t be seeking the office, pulled up the rear with 4 percent. Another 37 percent of voters are undecided.
In a statement, state Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris criticized McKinney’s intention to use participate in the public financing system, citing past remarks by the Republican calling the system “unconstitutional” and “offensive.”
Roy Occhiogrosso, a former adviser the governor who ran his 2010 campaign, said Malloy’s record since taking office held up against any of his potential challengers.
“The Republican Party has to decide whether they want to nominate another self-funder who thinks he’s entitled to office by buying it or a candidate who is going to use a public financing program he once called ‘unconstitutional,’” he said.
In a phone interview, McKinney said that although he still does not support the public financing system, it is the “law of the land” and the only way for most candidates to seek statewide office.
“For better of for worse, this is the law of the state of Connecticut and unless you’re going to be a self funded candidate, this is the only way to be a candidate for statewide office,” he said.
McKinney, who has held elected office since 1998 and was elected Senate minority leader in 2007, will most likely have to campaign on his lengthy record of public service.
Recently, he upset certain parts of the Republican Party with his support of stricter gun laws.
McKinney’s announcement prompted the Connecticut Citizens Defense League to issue a statement opposing his candidacy. The Second Amendment group is still upset with McKinney for supporting stricter gun legislation in response to the Sandy Hook School shooting.
“Senator McKinney was instrumental in implementing a historic gun control law with zero consideration for the constitutional rights of law abiding gun owners,” Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said. “With his deliberate act of siding with gun control supporters, there will be no support from CCDL for his run.”
The group posted on its blog that it would rather have four more years of Malloy than vote for McKinney.
“If the CTGOP wants 4 more years of Malloy, go ahead and put up McKinney because gun owners would rather keep Malloy in office than reward McKinney. We’re that mad,” the post reads.
McKinney said he has a long voting record and not everyone is going to agree with all the votes he has taken. He defended his vote on the gun control legislation, which was a bipartisan passed response to the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. McKinney’s senatorial district includes the town.
“I have represented Newtown for 15 years. I had friends that school building,” he said.
Since no Republican holds statewide office in Connecticut, McKinney as minority leader in the Senate, and Lawrence Cafero, as minority leader in the House, are the two highest ranking Republicans in the state.
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola called McKinney a skilled legislator and one of his party’s “top tier candidates” for governor. Asked whether the gun control issue will play a role in his party’s nominating process, he said declined to comment, saying the deciding issue would be the “woeful” state of Connecticut’s economy.
Labriola said he would like to see his party avoid a primary battle this year if possible.
“It’s still my preference that we settle our nomination process and come out of our state convention united in May of next year rather than having our candidates force a divisive and costly primary in August,” he said.
Labriola acknowledged that a primary may be inevitable, but said it is a situation Republicans around the state do not want and something he was working behind the scenes to avoid.
McKinney’s entry into the race almost guarantees there will be a primary. Any candidate who receives 15 percent of the Republican delegate support at the convention next May will have a spot on the primary ballot next August.
McKinney said he intends to focus his race on Malloy’s record rather than take shots at fellow Republicans.
McKinney is a non-practicing attorney with an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from the University of Connecticut. He is also the son of the late-Congressman Stewart McKinney and Lucie McKinney, an heir to the Standard Oil fortune.
McKinney, who got divorced in 2009, lives in Fairfield with his three children Matthew, Graysen, and Kate.