WATERBURY -- Republican primary voters in Connecticut doubled down on Tom Foley to be their nominee for governor Tuesday, setting up a rematch with Democratic incumbent Dannel P. Malloy.
Despite anemic turnout, Foley, 62, fended off a late charge by state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who conceded the race to the former diplomat and Greenwich private equity manager shortly before 9:30 p.m.
The beneficiary of wider name recognition outside Fairfield County and the GOP's endorsement, Foley celebrated his decisive victory with supporters at Waterbury's Pontelandolfo Community Club, an Italian-American social club and banquet hall.
The smell of victory blended in with the smell of garlic from an election party spread of sauteed escarole, fried calamari, broccoli rabe and mortadella.
Foley assailed his longtime adversary, Malloy, over his stewardship of Connecticut's economic recovery, which he said has been stunted by onerous taxes, runaway spending and a tangle of red tape that has antagonized job creators.
"Change is on the way. Change is coming to Connecticut," said Foley, whose victory rally was devoid of theme music and political theater.
Foley's running mate is still unknown, with the results of the GOP primary for lieutenant governor between state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers hanging in the balance as of 11 p.m.
Sharon McLaughlin defeated Angel Cadena in the GOP primary for state comptroller.
Before the final ballots were even counted Tuesday, Malloy warned that Foley or McKinney would roll back minimum wage and paid sick leave reforms championed by his administration.
"To the best of my knowledge, these things would be at risk," Malloy said during a White House conference call.
Foley is now eligible to receive $6 million in taxpayer funding for his campaign under Connecticut's so-called clean elections program, which he opted out of in 2010 when he spent $11 million of his self-made fortune.
"Dan Malloy has had four years to fix things," said Foley, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland under President George W. Bush. "Most of things under his leadership have actually gotten worse."
Malloy, 59, is hoping to avoid becoming the first sitting governor since John Davis Lodge, who served from 1951 to 1955, to be ousted after one term. Read Full Article
Democrats immediately derided Foley's victory as hollow because of the light turnout, which unofficial estimates showed as struggling to reach 20 percent statewide.
"With extraordinarily low turnout, today Republicans showed their lack of enthusiasm for the candidates running," Nancy DiNardo, the state Democratic chairwoman, said in a statement. "For the few Republicans who did show up, they selected Tom Foley, who has run a campaign avoiding the tough questions and totally devoid of specifics and details."
Gun advocates' role
McKinney, 50, the highest-ranking member of the GOP minority in the Legislature and son of the late U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, narrowly qualified for the primary in the waning moments of balloting during the state party convention in May.
"We fought hard. We came close, but, at the end of the day, Tom Foley ran a better race," McKinney, said in his concession speech.
McKinney, unable to turn his full attention to the race because of his legislative duties and the death of his mother in the spring, promised to cooperate with Foley.
"The goal was to make Dan Malloy a one-term governor and get a fiscally responsible governor," McKinney told supporters at a local restaurant in his hometown of Fairfield.
McKinney's role as the lead Republican negotiator of Connecticut's 2013 crackdown on guns, prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, alienated an untold number of primary voters.
"Quite frankly, I didn't want to reward McKinney," said Matthew Bilotta, 37, a registered Republican from Waterbury and diesel mechanic who voted for Foley. "He voted against my gun rights in 2013."
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. downplayed the sluggish showing, suggesting that Republicans were satisfied with the party's endorsements.
"I have no doubt that our base will turn out in big numbers this November to overturn Malloy and his failed economic policies," Labriola said.
Foley will try to do what Linda McMahon could not -- win statewide office on his second try.
Often compared to Mitt Romney because of his management background and staid demeanor, Foley waged a general election campaign that focused on Malloy throughout the primary race.
Foley paid little attention to the rest of the GOP field, which contracted from five other competitors that included Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton to just McKinney.
Knocked by his political foes for providing scant details about how he would govern, Foley dismissed his critics in an interview with Hearst.
"I certainly think I've been specific enough for voters to understand the difference between a Gov. Foley and Gov. Malloy going forward," he said.
Staff writer Ken Dixon contributed to this report