CTNJ file photos
John McKinney and Tom Foley (CTNJ file photos)

Tom Foley is likely to win next week’s Republican primary election even if John McKinney has a better chance of defeating Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, several Connecticut political science professors predicted Thursday.

Three Connecticut political science professors weighed in on next week’s Republican primary elections, which are more difficult to predict this year in the absence of recent public polling data.

Gubernatorial primary voters Tuesday are choosing between Foley, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee and the party’s convention-endorsed candidate, and McKinney, the leader of the Republican minority in the state senate.

“Conventional wisdom is Foley has it wrapped up,” Ron Schurin, a professor at the University of Connecticut, said.

However, Schurin and others said McKinney has a chance if he can capitalize on low statewide voter turnout, strong support in Fairfield County, and the perception among some in the party that he would make a stronger candidate against the incumbent Democrat.

“It would be a very significant upset,” Schurin said.

Scott McLean, a professor at Quinnipiac University, agreed. He said it was “ironic” that the candidate most likely to win against Malloy will likely be defeated in the primary.

McLean said that Foley has been vague and wary of controversy during the primary race, something that will hurt him in the general election. He also said McKinney is better equipped to capitalize on Malloy’s difficulty connecting with voters.

“Malloy and Foley have similar personalities. They’re kind of testy. They don’t talk in flowery rhetoric. They don’t suffer fools gladly and they’re not the slap-on-the-back, glad-handing kind of politicians,” he said “It won’t be so much who do voters love, but who do they dislike less in the end. That’s why it’ll be close.”

Khalilah Brown-Dean, a professor at Quinnipiac University, said that Foley’s general opposition to the gun control policies passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting gives him an advantage among Republican voters, many of whom also oppose the law. The issue is especially damaging to McKinney in the primary because he supported and helped pass the law.

But Brown-Dean said that same position may hurt Foley in the general election against Malloy.

“McKinney is a stronger opponent in the general election because he has a better chance of picking up votes from moderates, independents, and disenchanted Democrats,” she said. “Republican voters will have to weigh their concerns over the singular issue of gun access against the broader goal of capturing the governor’s mansion.”

In recent years, national voters have proven more willing to vote for candidates with whom they are “philosophically comfortable” with, Schurin said. Still, Brown-Dean said she expects the Tuesday contest between Foley and McKinney to be tighter than expected.

“I think it’s going to be a lot closer than most people expect. McKinney has made a surge in the last couple of weeks,” she said.

Lieutenant governor’s race

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republicans are picking between convention-endorsed candidate state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers, and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker.

It is difficult to make predictions on the lieutenant governor’s race. It is less closely watched than the governor’s contest and no public poll has been published on the candidates. Two of the three political science professors who spoke to CTNewsJunkie this week declined to weigh in on the race.

CTNJ file photos
Penny Bacchiochi, David Walker, and Heather Bond Somers (CTNJ file photos)

However, Schurin was willing to make a guess.

“That’s a real interesting race. I’m going to out on a limb and predict Walker,” he said.

Schurin pointed to controversies related to Bacchiochi and Somers.

Just before the Republican convention, Bacchiochi was forced to apologize to Walker for publicly suggesting someone in his campaign was spreading rumors about her mixed-race family.

Meanwhile, Schurin said Somers has been criticized, perhaps unfairly, because a company she founded accepted economic development aid from a quasi-public state agency. Some voters may feel that Somers played “fast and loose” with former gubernatorial candidate and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton when she severed an early alliance with him, Schurin said.

“Bacchiochi and Somers have some negative baggage with them and Walker has presented himself as a thinking man’s candidate,” he said.

If Walker were to prevail on Tuesday, Republicans would have a ticket featuring two male candidates. Schurin said he did not expect that lack of diversity to impact the general election results.

“It’s always better to have gender diversity, but I don’t think it would be a significant negative in this race. Those people likely to vote on that basis, I think, are likely to support Malloy anyway,” he said.