CTNJ file photo

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton suspended his campaign Wednesday and abandoned his primary challenge of party-endorsed candidate Tom Foley. In a press release, he urged supporters to back Foley.

Boughton’s sudden departure from the race leaves Senate Minority Leader John McKinney alone in challenging Foley, the party’s 2010 nominee, in an August primary. Both seek to challenge incumbent Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“I entered this campaign because Connecticut is headed in the wrong direction and I believe a positive, reform-minded Republican can challenge Dan Malloy and win in November 2014. I now believe all Republicans should unite behind the endorsed candidates, Tom Foley and Penny Bacchiochi,” he said. Bacchiochi is the party-endorsed lieutenant governor candidate.

Republican primary voters paired Boughton and Foley in 2010. Boughton appeared on the ticket as Foley’s lieutenant governor candidate but the partnership was a strained one.

In a Wednesday press release, Foley thanked Boughton for running “a strong, issues-based campaign and for bringing his skills and experience as Mayor of Danbury and a former legislator to the debate about solving Connecticut’s problems.”

“I appreciate Mark’s endorsement and look forward to working with him to take Connecticut in a better direction.  With smarter policies and new leadership we can restore the prosperity, promise and pride our citizens want and deserve,” Foley said.

Boughton’s ambitions this year were likely dashed by an inability to collect enough signatures to get Mark Lauretti, his last-minute running mate, on the ballot. Without Lauretti, Boughton stood little chance of raising enough small donations to qualify for public financing.

Heath Fahle, Boughton’s campaign manager, said the decision was made Wednesday afternoon after evaluating the likelihood of Lauretti getting on the ballot.

“We took a hard look at where we were this afternoon and based on our assessment of where Lauretti was at, it’s unlikely he’s going have enough signatures to put him over the top,” Fahle said. “Our finance plan had always been based on a team approach… you put the two together and realize this made the most sense.”

Boughton’s campaign endured a serious setback last month, when lieutenant governor candidate Heather Somers severed her ties with the Danbury mayor. Boughton named Somers his running mate in January in hopes she would help him raise money and garner support with Republican delegates.

But following the Republican nominating convention, Somers decided to run her campaign independent of Boughton. She is now running against Bacchiochi and Bridgeport Republican David Walker. Walker has aligned himself with McKinney even though the two haven’t formally combined their finances.

Somers’ departure left Boughton’s campaign scrambling for a fundraising partner. They chose Lauretti, the mayor of Shelton, who had been running for governor but did not receive enough support from delegates to participate in a primary.

To get Lauretti on the ballot as a lieutenant governor candidate, the campaign had less than three weeks to collect signatures of more than 8,190 Republican voters. They fell short of\ that number.

Boughton leaves the race just three hours before he and McKinney were scheduled to debate each other in an event at the Hartford Public Library. Foley had previously declined an invitation. According to a spokeswoman, McKinney is now planning to take questions from members of the audience.

In a statement, McKinney said he welcomes a two-way primary race.

“This will provide Republican primary voters a clear choice on the issues,” he said. “The next governor will have to close an almost $3 billion deficit. Mr. Foley and I could not be more clearly different in our approach to it.”