GOP candidates face the heat, hit the airwaves

While GOP gubernatorial front-runner Tom Foley spent much of the final day before today’s primary indoors, reaching out to voters on the airwaves and by telephone, his chief rival Michael Fedele was out and about Monday.

But as the heat and humidity soared during a mid-day walking tour in Watertown, Fedele said he was feeling refreshed thanks to Monday’s Quinnipiac University poll numbers showing Foley’s lead, which had stood as high as 35 percentage points at one time, was down to 8 points.

“It’s basically a dead heat,” Fedele said, noting the survey’s 4.6 percentage point margin of error. “We actually think it’s closer than that. We think it’s dead even.”

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Fedele talks with Chris Perrotti outside a Watertown supermarket (Jacqueline Rabe)

Sipping water while trying to keep cool outside of a local Stop and Shop, Fedele introduced himself to shoppers as they approached the market. Their response: He looks better in person than in his television commercials bombarding the airwaves.

“Ouch, everyone keeps saying that,” he responded to one potential voter. “Maybe I should take the hint.”

While Fedele was trying to keep cool in Watertown, the third GOP candidate, Oz Griebel,  was splitting his time in Bloomfield between an air conditioned lunch with Kaman Corporation executives, and then a much warmer tour of one of the aerospace firm’s hangars where military helicopters receive maintenance and other support service.

As Kaman chairman and chief executive officer Neal Keating noted that his company began a transition earlier this year from a costly pension program to a more affordable 401 (k) program, Griebel repeated his pledge to oppose further contributions to the state’s pension programs until unions consider a shift toward a defined contribution plan as well.

“The point of not funding these is to put on the pressure to get the unions back to the table,” Griebel said. “You cannot debate the fact that the cost of these simply is unsustainable.”

Griebel, who is on leave as president of the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance, wasn’t challenged as strongly by workers servicing helicopters.

“”My mother used to work for you,” one technician said. “She always spoke highly of you.”

“Tell your mother I love her,” Griebel replied.

The Simsbury Republican, who trailed Foley by just over 20 points in the latest poll, lacks the private resources Foley has pumped into the campaign, and has opted not to use the public financing employed by Fedele.

But Griebel, who also took time Monday for a downtown business tour in Middletown and an evening gathering at the Southport Brewery in Stamford, objected to what he said is the latest example of a better-funded candidate lifting his ideas.

Specifically, a new Fedele radio ad touts the lieutenant governor as the only candidate to pledge to freeze state government spending and hiring for the next four years.

Griebel, who first pledged during a debate over a month ago to freeze spending in all four years of his term,  said holding the line on spending can’t be done unless hiring is put on hold as well.

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GOP gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, right, talks with Kaman Corp. manager John Shelanskas (Keith M. Phaneuf)

“It’s intellectual hoo-hah,” he said, of the Fedele ad, arguing it effectively re-packaged and claimed a Griebel campaign position. “It’s outrageous.”

Fedele, who has pledged repeatedly to seek concessions from state workers, particularly regarding their pension programs, was challenged by to take a different approach by Chris Perrotti, a 17-year veteran of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Waterbury office.

“You have one minute, tell me what you would do for state workers,” she said. “I have worked hard. I am not one of those $200,000 salary employees with a huge bonus check.”

Fedele responded saying that he promises to protect the pensions that have been promised but that state workers do need to help give back too.

“It really comes down to the pensions,” he said.

As Perrotti continued to press her concerns, a line of questioners formed and Fedele addressed several queries about national health care reform.

“I will veto any tax increase caused by national health reform,” Fedele promised a Charles Beaumont, 67 of Bethlehem.

“It’s awful my taxes are going to be raised to pay for Obama-care,” said Beaumont, a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon. “Mike is right. They shouldn’t be asking us to pay for this.”

Fedele wrapped his day outside of Connecticut, greeting commuters heading for Connecticut-bound trains at Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

Foley, who met returning commuters at the Stamford train station, reached out to voters much of the day Monday a different fashion.

The Greenwich businessman spent most of his time hammering his core message home during radio appearances on WTIC-AM in Farmington, WICC-AM in Bridgeport, and WESU-FM on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown.

Foley, who has repeatedly touted his ability to fix troubled businesses, told Wesleyan listeners he’s not surprised Connecticut students leave the state after graduating.

“That’s because young people are smart and they go where the opportunities are,” he said, adding that by controlling government spending and taxes, and by investing in growing industries, Connecticut could again become the “economic engine of the Northeast.”

“In the last several decades we have moved way away from being that kind of supportive, friendly environment,” said Foley, who favors incentives for alternative energy technologies as well as new nuclear power generation in Connecticut to lower energy costs. “Now state government seems to be doing all it can to step on (businesses’) necks.”

Foley, who insisted he’s pleased with an eight-point lead entering the primary vote, took the get-out-the-vote effect into his own hands Monday evening, making calls at his campaign’s Naugatuck phone bank.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Foley said. “We’re working hard right up until they close the polls.”