Democrats were eagerly awaiting Tuesday what they hope will be a politically-damaging endorsement of Republican Tom Foley by a state gun rights group, with one mayor accusing the candidate of selling “his soul to the devil” for support.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League will consider endorsing Foley, the Republican candidate for governor, during its Tuesday night meeting. Foley lost narrowly to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2010 and is hoping to unseat him in this year’s rematch.
The group, which has around 15,000 members, has been intent on defeating Malloy since he signed a sweeping gun control law following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Before the CCDL made an endorsement, state Democrats organized a conference call where Democratic municipal leaders decried Foley, gun rights advocates, and any attempts to roll back the 2013 law.
“It’s unconscionable to me that Tom Foley would sell his soul to the devil — not only his soul but the soul of all of my residents and the safety of my residents and my community,” East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said on the call with reporters.
Democrats pointed several times to comments CCDL President Scott Wilson made to the New Haven Register, suggesting Foley had assured the group he would sign a repeal of the bill in the unlikely event the legislature passed one.
Although he has been vague on which aspects of the bill he opposes, Foley has made these statements publicly in the past. During a live interview broadcast on WTIC on Aug. 7, Foley told host Will Marotti the same thing.
“People have asked me if I support repeal. What I’ve said is I think that’s very unlikely with this legislature, but if they came with a repeal bill, I’d sign it,” Foley said during the interview.
But Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, framed the comments as a secret, backroom deal between Foley and the gun rights group.
“What did he promise the CCDL? If he promised to sign the repeal, what else has he told them behind closed doors that he’s not telling us?” she said.
Wilson said Wednesday that gun owners feel they are being demonized by Democrats this election cycle. But he said CCDL members are “everyday people” and not radicals.
“We’ve been vilified, demonized and ostracized ever since Sandy Hook. It’s resurfacing again because it’s election season. But we have a right to challenge the laws signed by legislators. We’re doing that in the courts and we have a right to do what we can during an election cycle,” Wilson said.
Wilson said it was not a “sure thing” that his group would vote to endorse Foley Tuesday night.
Foley has addressed the group in the past and has attended fundraising events, but he is not likely to be actively seeking its endorsement. He resisted staking out clear positions on the issue of gun control during the Republican primary.
When the National Rifle Association declined to endorse Foley in July and awarded him a “B-” on gun rights issues, Foley’s campaign issued a lukewarm statement.
“A ‘B-’ in school would not have been okay with my parents but here a ‘B-’ is okay,” Foley said through a spokesman.
Joe Visconti, a conservative candidate for governor and longtime gun rights advocate, said Monday he did not believe Foley was seeking the CCDL’s endorsement.
“I don’t know if Tom wants their endorsement. I don’t think he can run fast enough away from it,” Visconti said.
A Quinnipiac University poll in May suggested that 56 percent of voters support the 2013 gun control law.
In a statement, Foley’s spokesman Chris Cooper said the Tuesday conference call with Democratic mayors was a distraction.
“This is another distraction by desperate Dan Malloy who does not want to talk about his record of Connecticut’s largest tax increase, unusually slow job growth and budget gimmicks. Tom Foley has never said he would seek to repeal the gun bill,” Cooper said.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Foley said he never sought CCDL’s endorsement.
“I’d be happy to have anybody’s endorsement,” Foley said.