Courtesy of his Twitter feed
Joe Visconti (Courtesy of his Twitter feed)

The gubernatorial ballot may be crowded in November with candidates to the Left and Right of the two major parties attempting to petition their way onto the ballot.

On Friday, Republican Joe Visconti announced he was abandoning plans to collect signatures to compete in the Republican primary and instead would begin collecting the 7,500 signatures he’ll need by Aug. 6 to appear on the November ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. Last week, former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Pelto also began this process.

Visconti’s change in course comes just before the Tuesday deadline to collect the 8,190 signatures necessary to qualify to appear on the primary ballot. Seeking to directly qualify for the general election allows him to collect signatures from any voter — a wider pool than the registered Republicans he had to draw from to earn a spot on the primary ballot.

If they’re successful, Visconti and Pelto will join candidates from the two major parties. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is the Democratic nominee and his 2010 rival Tom Foley won the Republican nomination at convention. Two other Republicans, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, are running primary challenges.

A four-way general election could make for a complicated and difficult-to-predict gubernatorial race. And although they’re unlikely to win, third-party candidates can certainly hurt candidates running closer to the front, says Scott McLean, a professor of political science at Quinnipiac University.

“Third parties are like bees: they sting and then they die. They can hurt a campaign or a party in the short term, but in the long term they’re probably not viable,” he said.

McLean said third-party candidates have maximum influence in very close elections like the one polls suggest Malloy and Foley will be locked in if Foley wins the Republican primary. In 2010, Malloy defeated Foley by 6,404 votes, a fraction of a percentage point. They are still deadlocked for public support, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released a month ago.

“When it’s neck and neck, third parties can really add an extra unpredictability factor,” he said.

Even if they draw only a small percentage of the vote, third party or unaffiliated candidates could play the role of spoiler in a tight election and that makes supporters of the major candidates nervous.

Following Visconti’s Friday announcement, Foley supporter Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, called Visconti a “knucklehead” on social media sites. In a Monday phone interview, Markley said he was being polite and felt that “certifiable” was a more accurate term for Visconti if he thinks he has a chance at being elected.

“There’s only two possible results to this election: Malloy gets re-elected or a Republican defeats him. If we’re going to defeat him, Visconti running is only a hinderance in the sense that he takes votes away from Republicans,” Markley said.

Democrats have been more reluctant to criticize Pelto, who has insisted he is not entering the race to spoil Malloy’s chances. Neither the state party nor Malloy’s campaign have been willing to comment on his potential candidacy.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Malloy said in response to a question in May about a potential challenge from Pelto.

Visconti is hoping to set himself apart from other Republican and Democratic candidates by stressing his opposition to two hot-button issues — the implementation Common Core education standards and the strict gun control law passed in following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“The Common Core Initiative has no opponent in the present Republican or Democratic field of candidates. I intend to be the voice that represents children and parents who do not want to participate in synthetically engineered and corporately monopolized education. I will also be the lone candidate in the race for governor who will actively seek to restore our Second Amendment rights,” Visconti said in a press release.

Pelto, a vocal critic of Malloy’s education policies, has also railed against the Common Core standards. He posted an article on his blog Monday, saying it was time for the state to “dump” the standards, which he called an “unnecessary and wasteful diversion.”

“It is time for Connecticut to scrap the Common Core and re-direct scarce resources to ensuring that all of Connecticut’s public school students get the education they need to lead fulfilling lives. If elected governor, I’ll do exactly that,” he said.

Without polling data for Pelto or Visconti, McLean said it is too early predict how much an impact either could have on the race. However, he speculated that gun control could prove to be a more divisive issue than education policy.

“Unlike the Common Core, the gun control issue is very narrow and there’s a very tight focus group that really believes in anti-gun control and may be willing to change their votes,” McLean said.