Summer is finally here, and suddenly the political waters are calm and smooth for Tom Foley. He’s been having a great couple of weeks, despite — or perhaps because of — having done next to nothing.
It didn’t start out this way. The beginning of Foley’s campaign was a comedy of unforced errors in which he threw bizarre accusations at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy without bothering to gather evidence for any of them. The state’s political press ground him into a fine powder for it, and deservedly so. Worse, he did it again in January; accusing two brothers who received state economic aid of being related to a Democratic lobbyist. It turned out this wasn’t true, and Foley, instead of looking like a sober, steady leader who could return economic order to the state, looked more like an impulsive and desperate political novice.
But since then Foley’s gotten smart, and, more importantly, he’s gotten quiet. His attacks against Malloy, while constant, stick to dry economic realities and vague, pro-business, GOP boilerplate instead of wild accusations of corruption. It’s as if someone reminded him that all he had to do to win was keep his head down and not screw things up, and he actually listened.
It’s paying off. After a few hitches, he eventually qualified for his share of public campaign financing, which nicely obscures the fact that he could buy and sell most of us with his personal fortune. He also found some room to breathe when his strongest Republican opponent, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, dropped out and endorsed him, leaving only the hapless John McKinney officially in the race.
Better still, Jonathan Pelto picked up enough signatures to get his third-party candidacy onto the November ballot — encouraged in part by Republicans who hope Pelto will draw away enough Democratic votes to let Foley sneak by. Pelto, who has made his loathing of Gov. Malloy clear in blog post after excruciatingly long blog post, likely will have no trouble playing the role of the spoiler right up till the bitter end. Captain Ahab must chase his whale, after all.
Foley’s good luck didn’t stop there. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell popped out of retirement to shake a finger at Malloy. The popular Rell finally pushed back against what Malloy and other Democrats have been saying for years, that she’s responsible for the huge deficits the state faced in 2011, shifting blame instead to the Democratic legislature. There’s something to this, though it then becomes a little trickier to blame Malloy for the deficits looming in the next few years. Still, a revitalized and combative Rell would be a huge asset for the Republican ticket if she actually decided to get into the fray.
Speaking of Rell, her lieutenant governor, Michael Fedele, endorsed Foley this week. This is a big deal because Fedele was Foley’s strongest challenger during the close, bitter 2010 primary. Amazingly, Republicans are managing to pull their various factions into something resembling a real political party.
All of this leaves Foley in great shape as the summer wears on. If McKinney stays in the race Foley will beat him handily, giving him a win and positive press. On the other side, Malloy isn’t getting a lot of breaks; the fight over Common Core is damaging him, the economy remains sluggish, and the mood of the electorate remains as grumpy as ever.
There are some clouds ahead. Pelto has found nothing in the way of union support, which is something he seems to have been counting on. The SEIU and the AFL-CIO have endorsed Malloy-Wyman, and it’s unlikely Pelto will pick up any other unions. Democrats may not be able to convince Pelto to drop out, but they may be able to isolate him enough that he has next to no impact on the race.
Also, the Tom Foley that threw around baseless allegations without a shred of proof is still out there. He could still manage to shoot himself in the foot at a time when people are actually paying attention, and force people to think twice about him.
Lastly, Foley underestimates Dan Malloy at his peril. The governor may be down, but he is not the sort of person to back out on a fight. Malloy won last time in part by painting Foley as rich and out-of-touch; Republicans should be ready for a blizzard of similar ads in the fall. Foley could quickly find himself playing Mitt Romney to Malloy’s Obama.
But right now, this is Foley’s race to lose. Full speed ahead.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.