How many times have you heard candidates for any office — from student council to president of the United States — flatly deny that they’ll engage in negative campaigning? Now raise your hand if the candidate kept that promise.
But that’s precisely what state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney expects us to believe as he quietly threw his hat into the ring last week to grab the Republican nomination and challenge Gov. Dannel Malloy’s re-election in 2014.
“I’m not going to get into attacking other Republicans,” McKinney told co-hosts Laurie Perez and Al Terzi on Sunday’s The Real Story. “I’m going to run against Dan Malloy,” he told Dennis House on Face The State. “I’m not going to attack another Republican.”
House continued to press the question, asking McKinney what reason there is to believe the race for the GOP nomination against his presumptive opponent, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, would be any kinder than the slugfest between Foley and Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele in 2010. McKinney is a serious and honorable man, especially compared to his counterpart in the House, Larry Cafero, who briefly considered running for governor himself, but who is a dubious character and a walking repository of conflicts of interests.
Announcing for governor is a chance to showcase your abilities in a grand setting. Strangely, McKinney announced his candidacy in an email to reporters. But what were his options? The Capitol was out of the question. It’s a cesspool of secret deals, backslapping, and arm twisting. In other words, everything voters think is wrong with Hartford.
Most candidates for governor announce in their hometowns. In McKinney’s case, setting up a stage in Fairfield would remind voters of his legacy as a downstate Gold Coaster with a trust fund. Plus, McKinney is recently divorced and would not have a partner at his side. So rather than go the traditional route, he hit the Sunday talk-show circuit and stood on the green next to the Firehouse Deli in Fairfield talking to anyone who would listen.
So does McKinney have a chance? I certainly hope so. The man is a hard worker, is right on most of the issues, and knows how to flip the levers of power in Hartford. But he will have some high hurdles to clear.
First, he’ll have to secure the Republican nomination. Largely on the strength of his last campaign for governor four years ago, Foley has high name recognition and, as a private equity guy, was able to spend $11 million of his own money to take a run at Malloy. Though McKinney has income from a trust set up for him by the family of his mother, a wealthy heiress, it’s nowhere near enough for him to compete with Foley. This brings us to another awkward moment.
Given his lack of personal resources, McKinney has elected to use the state’s public financing system to help fund his campaign. As Malloy henchman Roy Occhiogrosso is fond of reminding us, this is very same system that McKinney once branded “unconstitutional,” but without which he wouldn’t have much of a campaign.
“For better or 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 told CTNewsJunkie. That sounds less like a rationalization than a realization that he was wrong about the program.
Then there is the problem with the Second-Amendment zealots. McKinney, whose Senate district includes Sandy Hook Elementary School, voted earlier this year for the comprehensive gun control bill signed by Malloy. Consequently, McKinney has taken quite a beating from gun rights advocates, many of whom have stated flatly that they will not vote for him under any circumstances.
“Had Larry Cafero and I not been in that room, we would have wound up with something much more onerous,” he told Perez and Terzi. The translation — “It could have been worse” — is cold comfort to the diehard firearms devotees who often vote on a single issue and who view any form of gun control as a slippery slope toward the abyss of confiscation.
Long story short: McKinney has a steep hill to climb. Of course, he’s a Republican in a blue state. Moreover, he will be hampered by low name recognition and limited finances. But even worse, the right wing of the party that plays an outsized role in the nominating process won’t soon forgive his gun control vote in the wake of the worst K-12 school shooting in the nation’s history.
With the deck stacked against McKinney, do you still believe he won’t go negative against Foley? Mark my words. If McKinney is serious about running, some time next year, you can expect to hear the word “Bibb.”