GOP has the edge in unsettled convention races

Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans will open their annual state convention this afternoon with a number of pressing questions unresolved.

Will the selection of Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as a running mate be enough to secure a GOP convention win for lieutenant governor/gubernatorial contender Michael Fedele?

Will Tom Foley, the frontrunner for the gubernatorial nomination in a March 18 Quinnipiac Poll, have as much pull with convention delegates as he does with the general public, and will his decision not to name a running mate help or hurt him this weekend?

Two other Republicans, business leader Oz Griebel of Simsbury and former Congressman Larry DeNardis of Hamden, still hope to secure enough delegates to squeeze into a gubernatorial primary. Branford financial analyst Christopher Duffy Acevedo also is seeking the nomination.

A potential four-way race for the GOP nomination for attorney general is brewing after Thursday’s announcement by veteran state Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill of Southbury that he is pursuing the office.

And hovering above it all is a heated race for the U.S. Senate nomination between former Congressman Rob Simmons of Stonington, World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon of Greenwich and economist Peter Schiff. Vincent Forras, a Ridgefield businessman, also is running for the nomination.

“This convention is a different type of animal,” Republican State Chairman Christopher Healy said, adding that with a Senate seat long held by Democrats up for grabs and the next governor facing record-setting budget deficits, there’s too much at stake to expect a mild party gathering. “The delegates are not looking for candidates simply willing to give it the old college try.”

Fedele, a former state representative from Stamford who was Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s running mate in their successful 2006 campaign, predicted he would win the convention’s gubernatorial endorsement on the first ballot. Balloting continues round after round until one candidate secures more than half of the 1,444 delegates.

“The momentum for this campaign has been remarkable in the past three to four weeks,” Fedele said, adding that recent endorsements from former 4th District Congressman Christopher Shays and by state House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk “have energized our campaign.”

And Boughton’s decision to abandon his own gubernatorial bid and become Fedele’s running mate has provided not only additional delegate support, but enough financial backing that the campaign now expects to clear the $250,000 fund-raising threshold it must pass to qualify for public financing, Fedele campaign spokesman Christopher Cooper said.

Foley, a Greenwich businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, had the rosiest numbers in a March 18 Quinnipiac University poll. While half of the Republicans polled were still undecided, Foley – who hit the airwaves with television and radio ads long before his competitors – captured 30 percent of the party vote while no one else cleared 4 percent.

But in the contest for delegates, who usually involve long-time party activists from town committees across the state, Foley wouldn’t concede anything to Fedele, but said the only big expectations rest on a political insider.

“Michael Fedele should be the winner since he is the sitting lieutenant governor,” he said. “It he doesn’t, I think that is a pretty big problem for him. If our conversations with the delegates are accurate, we expect to do very well. I have no stake in the status quo in Hartford. I’m not part of the problem. People want someone who is going to come in and shake things up.”

Foley also is taking a gamble this weekend, opting not to name a running mate, instead pledging to run alongside whomever the party nominates. But Boughton doesn’t have the race for lieutenant governor to himself. Simsbury businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley, who is not affiliated with any gubernatorial contender, also is seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor.

Foley added he is confident he will secure well over the 15 percent of the delegate vote to qualify for an August primary.

But he isn’t the only one hoping to score points this weekend with a message of challenge to the political establishment at the state Capitol.

Griebel, former chairman of the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance, also hopes his political backbone will propel him into a gubernatorial primary.

“I think people looking to see who’s got the toughness to get the job done,” said Griebel, who is being touted by former Congresswoman Nancy Johnson as a fiscally conservative, pragmatic problem-solver who can stimulate business and streamline government. “I have absolutely no illusions about what we are facing, none whatsoever. There’s a different environment out there.”

By comparison, the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination is straightforward, a two-man race between Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont that will be settled by one ballot.

Malloy is acknowledged by both camps as the certain winner of the endorsement, but Lamont has stepped up efforts in recent days to secure delegate commitments, aided by urban mayors and legislative leaders.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez and his former chief of staff, Matt Hennessy, recently began to wrangle Hartford delegates for Lamont, even though Perez had endorsed Malloy four years ago.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch is loaning Lamont his chief of staff, Adam Wood, to manage the convention. Leslie O’Brien of the Senate Democrats’ staff also joined the team this week.

Her boss, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, was an early backer of Lamont. House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D- Meriden, and the rest of the Meriden delegation endorsed him this week.

Malloy will be helped at the convention by his popular running mate, Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman. His recent endorsements include U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District.

Lamont and Malloy are the survivors of what was a five-candidate field: Juan Figueroa and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi dropped out and Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman is Lamont’s running mate.

Though the Democratic field has been thinning in recent weeks, Republicans have gained a few more candidates over the past week.

O’Neill became the third Republican this week to announce for attorney general, joining lawyers Ross Garber of Glastonnbury and Kie Westby of Thomaston. Avon attorney Martha Dean announced her interest several months ago.

The O’Neill-Garber match-up is a different re-pairing of two combatants who squared off in a difference political arena six years ago.

O’Neill co-chaired the bipartisan House Committee appointed in 2004 to consider impeachment charges against then-Gov. John G. Rowland, while Garber served at the time as chief counsel to the governor’s office. Rowland announced in late June 2004 that he would resign – just days before the panel was expected to vote to recommend impeachment.

O’Neill, who has practiced law in the private sector for the past 32 years, was re-nominated last week to run in the 69th Assembly District, which he has represented for the past 22 years.

The attorney general’s office has drawn increasing interest since the overwhelming front-runner in the polls, Middletown Democrat Susan Bysiewicz, was bounced from the race Tuesday. Bysiewicz, a lawyer who has served as secretary of the state since 1999, had her hopes to become attorney general dashed when the state Supreme Court ruled she lacks the required years of experience in active legal practice to serve.

The incumbent attorney general, Greenwich Democrat Richard Blumenthal, announced in January he would not seek a sixth term but instead would run for U.S. Senate. George Jepsen, the former Senate majority leader, is the only remaining Democratic candidate for attorney general.

Wyman’s recent decision to run for lieutenant governor instantly made the comptroller’s race more attractive. Darien Republican Jack Orchulli announced he is seeking the GOP nomination, joining Bolton Republican Stephanie Labanowski. Kevin Lembo, state Rep. Thomas Reynolds of Ledyard, Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura and Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto are contending for the Democratic nomination.