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Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate, clinched his party’s nomination Saturday with more than 57 percent of the 1,200 Republican Convention delegates at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center.

But some last-minute deals will make it a three-way Republican primary. Joe Visconti of West Hartford will try to get the more than 8,000 signatures he needs to on the ballot. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti is still pondering the idea of petitioning.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton received enough support to automatically qualify for the August primary. Boughton had strong support and easily surpassed the 15 percent he needed after the end of the first ballot, but McKinney needed to strike some last-minute deals in order to reach the threshold.

“We’re going to focus on Gov. Malloy’s record, which is really terrible and really has harmed families and hurt everyone in Connecticut,” Foley said. “We’ve got to turn this state around, people are looking for a new direction and they’re looking for new leadership and I’m looking forward to providing it.”

Foley said primaries can be a good thing for parties, or a “not-so-good” thing. He said the 2010 Republican primary that included himself, former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, and Oz Griebel fell into the latter category.

“I’m hoping this is a good primary because it gives more than one Republican an opportunity to tell the story of why this state isn’t doing well and why a Republican candidate is the right choice in November,” he said.

Boughton said he planned to explain his vision for the state to Republican voters and would prefer that his party focused on getting Malloy out of office. He said a three-way primary makes it easier for one candidate to win 35 percent of the vote than the 50 percent needed to win a two-way match.

But he had a warning for his primary opponents.

“If you take a shot at me I’m going to take two back at you,” Boughton said. “I’m a mayor. I have sharp elbows.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo

McKinney tried to strike a civil tone. He said he expected to win the primary, but does not see himself as running against the other two Republican candidates.

“They’re both good people. We need to be united as a party now and after the primary,” he said. “I’m confident that when I get the chance to campaign across Connecticut, people will resonate to our message and the fact that I’m the guy who’s going to go after Dan Malloy.”

McKinney fell short of the necessary votes before delegates were given the opportunity to switch candidates. He worked the convention floor in a scramble to get enough votes to primary. Lauretti agreed to relinquish his town’s delegates to support McKinney. Foley also agreed to release some of his delegates to McKinney.

Afterward, Lauretti said he wanted to see both McKinney and Boughton with the option to primary. He said he may decide to petition his way onto the ballot himself.

“Because I think it’s healthy. I think competition is good. It’ll sharpen people’s skills. We need to be willing to spread our tent a little bit. I think this will do that,” he said.

Asked if he was concerned that a bitter primary could damage Republicans instead, Lauretti said it “would be stupid,” but it’s a possibility.

“Look, in America? You’ve got to be concerned about those things. Politics is a contact sport,” he said.

Visconti said he has 75 people working for him circulating petitions. He needs 8,190 to qualify for the primary ballot.

In a statement, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo criticized Foley, calling his policies “a recipe for economic disaster for Connecticut’s middle class.”

“The policies Mr. Foley would put in place are the same old, tired, failed policies of the past. Connecticut can either go backwards with Mr. Foley, or continue making progress with Governor Malloy,” she said.