Fedele concedes after clinging to hope of hometown win

A dispute over vote tallies from one of Connecticut’s largest cities pushed the battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination late into the night Tuesday before Michael Fedele conceded to Tom Foley shortly after 11 p.m.

Fedele, Connecticut’s lieutenant governor since 2007 and a former state representative from Stamford, claimed that he had  won his home city by about 3,000 votes, about the same time the Associated Press projected businessman Foley as the winner.

Unofficial results up until that point, with about 75 percent of precincts reporting, had showed Foley, a Greenwich businessman, leading Fedele by nearly 5,000 votes. That left Foley with 43 percent to 38 percent for Fedele and 19 percent for Griebel.

Foley campaign spokeswoman Liz Osborn said her organization did not have any final totals from Stamford, and disagreed with Fedele’s conclusion.

With voter turnout as stagnant as the hot, humid air, the already-tight Republican gubernatorial contest was poised to turn on one simple question:

Who had the better campaign network and core group of energized supporters, Tom Foley or Michael Fedele?

“I feel really good. We’ve had a good voter ID network, a good get-out-the-vote effort all along,” Foley said shortly after arriving at 3 p.m. the Marriott Rocky Hill.

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GOP gubernatorial candidate Michael Fedele waits for voters outside a Waterbury school (Jacqueline Rabe)

“People have already decided who they like, now it’s just getting them out to vote,” Fedele said earlier, greeting voters outside Fox Run School in Norwalk. “It’s August the 10th, it’s the middle of the summer. Where would you be? Here?”

If voters aren’t very focused on politics during the summer heat, Foley said he picked the one issue to focus on that stands the best chance of grabbing their attention. “People are worried about jobs and I think we’ve made job creation one of our top priorities.”

Though he entered the race for governor in December. Foley had been campaigning in Connecticut for nearly 1½ years. having first launched a bid for the U.S. Senate in early 2009. Fedele and the third Republican in the gubernatorial primary, Oz Griebel, didn’t enter the fray until this past winter.

The Greenwich businessman, who lead Fedele by 8 points in this week’s Quinnipiac University poll after once holding a 35-point-advantage, has been stung by a host of attack ads aired by the Fedele camp since it obtained public financing about one month ago.

Chief among those television spots is an ad that accuses Foley of reaping huge profits as the Georgia textile mill he owned in the 1980s and 1990s slid toward ruin eventually filing for bankruptcy two years after Foley sold it.

Foley, who visiting polling places in Greenwich, New Canaan and Oxford after casting his own ballot this morning, said the attack ads caught voters’ attention. “They understood that I had to respond,” he said.

Foley took his own shots, laying the blame for the $3.4 billion budget deficit facing state government in less than one year at Fedele’s feet. A former state representative from Stamford, Fedele has been lieutenant governor under Gov. M. Jodi Rell since 2007.

Fedele said if he could change anything about his campaign, he would have sought the public money to run his campaign earlier. Fedele did not receive all of the $2.5 million from the state’s public finance system to run his, and his running mate Mark Boughton’s, campaign until mid-July.

Foley had challenged Fedele’s dual participation in the program with Boughton. Foley also challenged Fedele receiving a supplemental grant to compensate for his high campaign spending since the federal appeals court ruled these grants unconstitutional.

The delay didn’t dampen Fedele’s mood or hopes for a victory in the primary election.

“It’s been somewhat of a Godsend. We have been facing a fire hose of ads on the air. Luckily we have been able to respond,” Fedele said.

State House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk, a Fedele backer, dismissed any speculation today that any association with Rell would harm Fedele. The lieutenant governor has insisted he would be much more fiscally conservative than his boss has been,

“I was in those very same (budget) meetings in which Mike was at I witnessed him tell the governor over and over do it this way,” he said.

Though 43 percent of Democrats turned out in August 2006 for that year’s U.S. Senate primary between Ned Lamont and Joseph Lieberman, Republicans hadn’t faced a major, statewide primary in August in recent history until today.

GOP State Chairman Christopher Healy, who said Monday he hoped for turnout close to 25 percent, said today he wasn’t optimistic about hitting that benchmark, let alone approaching the Democrats’ numbers from 2006.

“Even though I think the people are more in tune with politics than the normally are because of the state of the economy, people still have their own lives and at this time of the year its very difficult for them to remain focused on politics,” Healy said.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Connecticut’s chief elections official, said despite a Republican primary for U.S. Senate, gubernatorial primaries involving both major parties, and several underticket contests, politics in 2010 lacks the big compelling issue that Lamont and Lieberman battled over.

“With Lamont-Lieberman that was a lot of excitement, a lot of strongly held beliefs about the war,” she said.

“No one expected it would be a huge turnout,” added Dean Pagani, former chief of staff to ex-Gov. John G. Rowland, and now a consultant to the Foley campaign. “There’s not one single issue that’s driving people to the polls like it did in 2006.

Preliminary numbers from Bysiewicz’s office showed early afternoon turnouts ranging from 12 to 18 percent in most parts of the state, with totals in heavily Republican Fairfield County even lower.

Early on primary election day, Griebel didn’t sound like a candidate trailing two other Republicans in the race for governor. An upbeat Griebel was pinning his chances on being “the other guy.”

As he stopped for a breakfast of orange juice and a Western omelet at the Twin Colony Diner, Griebel greeted a handful of patrons and, during a brief interview, explained his confidence despite running third in polls behind Tom Foley and Michael Fedele.

Foley and Fedele have waged a high-profile, aggressive campaign, much of it attacking one another’s records – the kind of politics many voters say they have rejected, according to Griebel, who has focused his message on balancing the state’s budget with spending controls, and on attracting new business to Connecticut.

“Most people say, ‘Are you Foley? Are you Fedele?’ I say, ‘No, I’m the other guy.’ [They say], ‘Good, I’m going to vote for you.'”

After leaving Torrington, Griebel voted in his hometown of Simsbury, the first of several polling places where he greeted voters during a busy schedule that included stops in Newtown, New Canaan, Fairfield, Milford, Madison and Glastonbury.

He is scheduled to finish the day in Hartford in what he hopes will be a celebration of an upset victory.

In the latest Quinnipiac Poll, Griebel lagged 21 percentage points behind Foley and 13 behind Fedele.

Nevertheless, Griebel is counting on voters who say they are undecided. “In the last several days particularly, I just feel the momentum is definitely headed in our direction,” he said. “I know . . . our support is not just broad, it’s deep.”

He added, “When we do our polling . . . we don’t see anywhere near the support for Foley or Fedele that the Quinnipiac Poll shows. . . . The people who are supporting me I don’t think are getting picked up in the polls.”