Republican primary voters handed Greenwich Republican Tom Foley his second consecutive gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, setting up a rematch between Foley and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. 

A last-minute surge and strong support in Fairfield County were not enough to save Foley’s primary opponent, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield. McKinney lacked the Foley’s name recognition and the longtime state senator representing Newtown may have suffered opposition among GOP voters for his support of gun control legislation passed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

During a televised debate Sunday, the two promised to endorse each other no matter what happened Tuesday. When McKinney called Foley he pledged his support Foley during a phone call around 9:30 p.m.

“You guys have 100 percent of my time and effort,” McKinney told Foley.

Foley had 56 percent of the votes and McKinney had 44 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. That means, as of midnight, Foley had 44,464 votes to McKinney’s 35,563 votes.

Hugh McQuaid photo
John McKinney (Hugh McQuaid photo)

McKinney conceded the race shortly after when he joined his supporters at a bar near his Fairfield headquarters.

“The race does not end tonight. The goal was to elect a new governor. The goal is to make Dan Malloy a one term governor and get a fiscally responsible Republican in the governor’s office,” McKinney told supporters after conceding.

The statement caused Foley supporters in Waterbury, who were watching the speech, to applaud the statement.

Malloy’s campaign was ready for Foley’s victory. Minutes after the Associated Press called the race around 9 p.m., Malloy spokesman Mark Bergman released a statement that attacked Foley’s experience as founder of a private equity firm and a widely-criticized press conference the candidate held outside a closing papermill in Sprague.

“He has spent his career making millions while destroying jobs. This is the same Tom Foley who in July told workers in eastern Connecticut that it was their fault their factory closed. And, instead of telling Connecticut what he would do, he’s spent the last three years chirping from the cheap seats, rooting for Connecticut to fail, and avoiding specifics, tough questions, and details,” Bergman said.

McKinney’s supporters slowly acknowledged the results as they ran across the screens of silent televisions in the noisy Fairfield bar where his reception was held. Fairfield RTC Chair Jamie Millington took the stage around 9:45 p.m. to break the bad news.

“It’s not looking so well there,” he said. “. . . John has been our state senator for many years. We have known him — I’ve known him, my entire life and he has served us well. Tonight is a little bit bittersweet but I know John has a future ahead of him.”

Foley painted his victory Tuesday as a referendum on Malloy and his policies.

“Dan Malloy has had his chance and change is coming,” Foley said during his speech to supporters.

Foley also thanked McKinney for his public service and “defending Republican principles.”

Like his television advertisements, Foley promised to take the state in a new direction with new policies.

“Our families deserve better, we must lower the tax burden on our families,” Foley said.

Supporters at the Foley victory party were milling around, noshing on Italian food, and watching national news coverage of Robin Williams death on Fox News at the Pontelandolfo Community Club in Waterbury an hour after the polls closed. There was little excitement in the room for the candidate shortly after 9 p.m. when the Associated Press called the race for Foley.

But many supporters said that’s because they knew Foley would win.

McKinney’s support of the gun control legislation earned him opposition from Second Amendment groups like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. In a blog post, the group said it planned to “celebrate the end of John McKinney’s political career” at a monthly meeting Tuesday in Middletown.

However, after his speech, McKinney told reporters he did not believe the gun issue sunk his candidacy among Republican voters. He said most voters who disagreed with his support of the bill prioritized other issues.

“It had an effect but at the end of the day, in the conversations I had and the polling we did, the overwhelming majority of Republican voters were most concerned about spending, taxes, jobs and the economy,” he said.

As he waved at vehicles Monday in West Hartford, Foley also didn’t believe it would be the Second Amendment supporters who would help him claim victory.

“I’m very grateful for their support, but . . . I think that support for my candidacy both in November and here in the primary is very broad,” Foley said Monday during a stop in West Hartford. “We’ve seen no movement from our supporters in 2010 or more recently in this primary away from me.”

The Republican Governor’s Association headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned for Foley, quickly congratulated the former Ambassador to Ireland in a statement.

“It’s time to put Tom Foley in the governor’s office,” Christie said. “Foley has the experience in both the public and private spheres which will help him promote policies that create jobs, attract business, and reboot Connecticut’s economy.”