A few weeks ago I pointed to five things to watch for in this year’s municipal election results. The election last week did not generate a large wave in one direction or the other. There was a slightly higher turnout than in 2011, but nothing that broke the bank.
Mayor Mark Boughton’s gubernatorial ambitions got a boost from his very strong performance in Danbury, winning re-election by over a two-to-one margin. Democrats won in three out of the four towns I highlighted as potential pickups for them at the executive level. They won Stamford, Norwalk, and Norwich and lost in East Haven.
Yet they experienced shocking losses in New Britain, Meriden, and Ansonia that I didn’t see coming. West Haven was not the site of a stunner as the Democrat on the ballot won. West Haven is where I thought the Republican might have a chance because the incumbent was running as a write-in after losing the primary; the Republican got crushed anyway. Both parties had wins and losses that are more likely attributable to local factors than to an over-arching theme for the next election.
That brings us to this week and the question of what exactly is going on with Tom Foley. I am on record saying that Foley will be the Republican nominee for governor in 2014. All the factors still line up in his favor: a spilt field, lots of money, friends, and name recognition.
Since his exploratory re-announcement in September, however, we have been treated to a fundamentally different Tom Foley than the 2010 model. I know that it is blasphemous for me, as a Democrat to say this, but Tom Foley ran an absolutely great race in 2010. He was able to make himself seem non-threatening and not overly Republican, while also damaging Malloy. He came incredibly close to winning. If anyone can find an errant word he uttered or a personal mistake that he made in 2010, please show me. I don’t know of any.
But in 2013, the perfectly scripted Tom Foley seems to have completely disappeared. Instead, there is another Tom Foley who is making wild ethics allegations; claiming, without any proof, that his last election was stolen; and taking the most right-wing position available on the unpopular government shutdown.
All of this presaged Foley’s first ad, which features a New York Post front page calling then-New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio a communist. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek text then says Foley will save the state from Gov. Dan Malloy, who has policies similar to de Blasio’s, making Connecticut a good place to flee from New York in the new de Blasio regime.
In another forum, Foley also told the heart-warming story of how he had been a New York City “refugee” from the Dinkins era.
What could possibly inspire such an ad? Foley chose to attack a man who was just elected mayor of the nation’s largest city by a margin greater than three-to-one. Yes, it was obviously more of a video press release than a serious ad buy. Yet questions remain: once you get beyond the New York Post caricature, what exactly is Foley’s problem with Mayor-Elect de Blasio’s message? Does Foley think income inequality is a non-problem? Or does he think a tax increase on the wealthiest to pay for universal pre-kingergarten would be a disaster?
More importantly, why is Foley launching his first ad in a way that ignores the four-fifths of the state who don’t pay any attention to the New York media market and thus don’t even know what Foley is talking about?
The fact is that a small number of people who make up the fiscal elite are not thrilled with de Blasio and his 99-percent campaign. But is Foley’s idea that the state of Connecticut should adopt policies to cater to this dissatisfied elite, a group who may or may not leave as a consequence of the new mayor? That is madness.
It is as if Foley thinks he’s running for governor of Greenwich. Although that is likely to keep him popular with his friends, it is not likely to win over the swing voters he needs. Most Connecticut voters would have chosen de Blasio over Lhota, too.
Foley seems to have learned the wrong lesson from 2010. He held himself in check during the last election, letting the voters read into him what they wanted. Rather than realize he almost won because of the effective use of this straightjacket, Foley now seems to think the straightjacket cost him the election, and he appears to have tossed restraint aside. We now see the real Tom Foley, and he is not the kind of person Connecticut elects to statewide office.
All of this would be good news for Dannel P. Malloy, except for one thing: Foley has been behaving so badly that he may have put his nomination in jeopardy. This is still a complicated matter. Despite all the flailing, Foley remains the front-runner. He benefits from having not one, but several challengers: Boughton, John McKinney, Toni Boucher, and some others.
Foley’s name recognition advantage, combined with all the friends he made running statewide last time, makes it very hard for him to lose a race in a multi-candidate field. At this point it is hard to see who, between Boughton and McKinney, would step down, particularly because a primary win would give either man a solid chance against Malloy. All of this is cause for the governor to be smiling. If he is re-elected, the question we will be asking is, whatever happened to Tom Foley?
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.