Despite the re-election of a Democratic incumbent, financial hardship, and weathering “vitriolic” attacks from people he once considered allies, petitioning gubernatorial candidate Joe Visconti says he has no regrets.
Visconti, a contractor from West Hartford who served one term on the town council, ran as a Republican until this year’s nominating convention. Then he collected 10,000 signatures and petitioned his way onto the ballot alongside Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley.
Until the weekend before the election, Visconti resisted calls from Republicans to drop out of the race and endorse Foley in what was expected to be tight election. Even after he endorsed Foley, he remained on the ballot and drew more than 11,000 votes.
In a phone interview Friday, Visconti said he was happy with his campaign.
“I’ve never had an election where I felt so good in a loss,” he said.
Although Foley lost again to Malloy, Visconti said the defeat provides Connecticut Republicans a chance to rethink an approach that has failed to win a statewide election in eight years.
“I’m not excited that he lost, don’t get me wrong, but I’m excited the Republicans may — they may — have the opportunity to put in a new team that will connect with the street and rebuild our party by knocking on doors, recruiting in the off-cycle, training candidates off-cycle, and to not be a reactionary party,” Visconti said. “We proved you can do a lot without money.”
For his part, Visconti said he believes his long-shot candidacy gave a voice to many voters who were disenchanted with both Foley and Malloy. Those included voters upset about the state’s gun regulations and its implementation of the Common Core education standards. Visconti said Foley dropped the ball on both fronts.
“Both those issues, Foley destroyed them by avoiding them and thinking they didn’t matter,” he said. “Common Core? He hardly mentioned it. Common Core was his winner. That’s where he should have won, with the schools, and he screwed up.”
Although he was barred from several televised debates, Visconti was included in two. He shared the stage with both candidates during one forum and debated Malloy alone during a debate on NBC Connecticut.
Visconti said he was proud he was able to articulate the position of Second Amendment activists during the debate.
“I represented the Second Amendment to the number-one gun grabber in America, Dan Malloy. I went back and forth with him on stage,” he said. “The NRA should be ashamed of itself” for supporting Foley.
But Visconti concedes that his debate with Malloy may have helped the incumbent and hurt Foley. He said Foley lost the election when he opted to sit out the NBC Connecticut debate.
“The governor actually looked better as a person, debating me. I kept it civil, he kept it civil,” Visconti said. “He was playing me of course, but he was not wrong when he said ‘This guy showed up. He made a commitment and showed up.’”
Does helping Malloy look civil bother him?
“It doesn’t bother me. This is politics. We’re here to tell the public our ideas. It doesn’t bother me at all. Tom Foley had the opportunity to be there,” Visconti said.
But the campaign drew a personal and financial toll on the West Hartford contractor. Visconti said some activists he had considered friends, particularly in gun rights groups, launched “vitriolic” attacks through social media in an effort to get him to drop out of the race. And the Republican establishment “bombed me personally.”
Then there were the financial stressors. In late October, the Journal Inquirer reported that Visconti had more than $100,000 in liens on his residence related to tax obligations, a divorce, and business settlements.
On Friday, Visconti said his financial situation became dire during the campaign.
“It got bad here. I had no electricity at my house for three months in this campaign. I lived by candlelight. The electric bill got so high I couldn’t pay it. It was that bad,” he said. “This was self-imposed by me. I was putting everything I had” into the campaign. “But you’re playing Whac-A-Mole with the bills on the house and everything.”
He said he is back on firmer footing now and expects to be working on contracts in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard next week.
Moving forward, Visconti said voters can expect to see him run for office again in the future and next time he will be aiming high.
“It won’t be anything less than governor. You don’t go backward. They better watch out. I’m coming,” he said.