Republican Tom Foley’s loss to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday and his commentary on the race are not sitting well with outgoing House Minority Leader Larry Cafero.
Malloy held on Tuesday through a close rematch with Foley, his 2010 Republican rival. Although the race was expected to be close, Malloy’s victory came as a surprise to many Republicans who saw vulnerability in the Democrat’s consistently low approval rating. Malloy has never reached 50 percent approval in public opinion poll.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Cafero called the loss disappointing for state Republicans, but he said he took offense to a statement by Foley alleging he had done as well as anyone in the party could have done in Connecticut.
“Wrong. He was the wrong Republican,” Cafero said, pointing to gains his caucus made Tuesday in House races. “We represent 119 towns. Does that sound like a blue state to you? On your way out the door, don’t say ‘Republicans can’t win.’ Talk about arrogance.”
Minutes after Malloy held a 20-minute press conference at the state Capitol to thank supporters and talk about his second term, Cafero said the state “would be having a very different conversation” if Senate Minority Leader John McKinney had won his primary race against Foley in August.
“I can think of two people who would have won last night [Danbury Mayor] Mark Boughton and John McKinney. They relate to people, they’ve had experience, they’ve been humbled by the trials of campaigning, they have knocked on doors. Foley’s never had that,” he said.
Before conceding in an email Wednesday, Foley made the rounds on some morning radio shows. He was also quoted in the Courant saying, “We did as well as a Republican can do in Connecticut.”
Cafero disagreed and said it was time for Connecticut Republicans to re-think their habit of nominating successful business people with no political experience. He pointed to Foley’s two unsuccessful campaigns for governor as well as candidates like Linda McMahon and Mark Greenberg, who have both run at least twice for U.S. Senate and House seats.
“The answer is clear that this whole notion that someone successful in business with zero political experience can just grab the brass ring in a race for governor or senate, it doesn’t work that way. We’ve experimented with it as a party five or more times. It does not work,” he said.
During a call to WNPR’s ‘Where We Live’ Wednesday morning, Foley called Malloy’s apparent victory, despite his low approval ratings, an “extraordinary outcome.” The Republican blamed Malloy’s incumbency and his willingness to engage in negative campaigning.
“Incumbency has a lot of power. We’re a blue state. Last time a Republican won in Connecticut, statewide, was Jodi Rell in 2006. At that time, registered Republicans were about 25 percent of registered voters and it’s now down to 20 percent. It’s just very difficult, particularly if you have an opponent that’s willing to go negative and scare off unaffiliated voters and just turn it into a battle of the bases,” he said.
Other Republicans said they believe their party needs a better outreach strategy in the state’s cities, which have twice put Malloy over the top with wide margins of support. Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Republican candidates have had a difficult time overcoming the Democratic advantage in the state’s cities.
“It’s very tough to beat the city vote. It’s the city vote that tends to put this governor . . . over the hump. So what does that say? I think it says that we as Republicans, I think you’re going to see . . . a new strategy, an urban strategy,” Fasano said. “I think we’ve got a good message, it’s just that we don’t get it to the cities.”
Supporters of the Second Amendment, who tried to make the race a referendum on the lawmakers who supported the strict gun control bill after the Sandy Hook shooting, also lost Tuesday.
Members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group that boasts nearly 16,000 members, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol prior to the election and called on supporters to turn out to the polls.
Malloy’s defeat has been a priority for the group since the passage of sweeping gun control restrictions following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Scott Wilson, CCDL’s president, said even though Foley may have lost he thinks Malloy’s loss in Newtown was significant.
“Folks out there were the center of the gun debate and they chose freedom over malarkey,” Wilson said.
Foley won Newtown by 318 votes, according to Associated Press results.
“In spite of the results, we are proud that our members and other gun owners put forth a tremendous effort to protect their constitutional rights. In particular, we are happy about some of the house races and victories for other Second Amendment candidates,” Wilson said in a statement.
Ron Pinciaro, president of Connecticut Voters for Gun Safety, said Malloy lost Newtown in 2010 by 2,000 votes, so he doesn’t believe it’s as significant as the gun rights activists believe.
Pinciaro said his group lost one Senate seat they had been focused on picking up. Republican Art Linares of Westbrook was able to win a second term. Emily Bjornberg, a Democrat from Lyme, who Pinciario’s group was supporting, lost.
Wilson said his group was very involved with Linares’ campaign.