Foley already is eyeing a 2014 rematch with Malloy

Tom Foley, the Republican businessman who narrowly lost a bitterly contested race for governor last fall, is positioning himself for a rematch with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2014, not a run for Connecticut’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2012.

In an interview, Foley said he was content to cede the GOP nomination for the Senate to Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee who lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal last year, or one of the other Republicans now exploring a run to succeed the retiring independent, Joseph I. Lieberman.

“I still think I’m best-qualified and best-able to help Connecticut in the governor’s office,” said Foley, who grew wealthy acquiring and running companies. “So, I think I’ll be looking seriously at 2014. I hope to have an opportunity to run again.”

Tom Foley

Tom Foley

To lay the groundwork, Foley is trying to position his campaign manager, Justin Clark of West Hartford, as the next party chairman, assist Republicans in next month’s special elections and create a policy group to promote economic-development issues and education reforms.

“I felt privileged to have the ability to run and affect the dialogue and meet so many people, getting 560,000 votes,” Foley said. “I enjoyed it and want to stay involved.”

Foley and McMahon each are expected to headline annual Lincoln Day fundraisers for local GOP town committees, keeping their names fresh and generating good will among the rank and file. The prospect of Foley and McMahon working in concert – or at least not at cross purposes — is a plus for a party that holds no statewide office or congressional seats in Connecticut and controls neither chamber of the General Assembly

Foley briefly ran for Senate until Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced her retirement in November 2009. He quickly switched to the race for governor, leaving McMahon to win a three-way primary. Her primary and general campaigns cost her nearly $50 million.

McMahon is undeclared for 2012, but she is behaving like a candidate, traveling the state and speaking to Republican groups.

“If Linda runs, I think she’ll be a good candidate,” Foley said. “She’s done it before, and she’s fresh. If she doesn’t, there are others who have expressed an interest.”

As for the possibility he would consider a run, he seemed to view himself as a last resort, saying he believes is better suited as a candidate for governor than the U.S. Senate.

“If people felt I was the right person to run and came to ask, I’d certainly consider it,” said Foley, who was the ambassador to Ireland during the closing years of the administration of George W. Bush.

Foley, who turned 59 the weekend after Malloy’s inauguration, spent $10.8 million of his own money losing the state’s closest gubernatorial race in a half-century. Foley was edged by Malloy in a three-way race, 49.5 percent to 49 percent.

He is keeping the core of his campaign organization intact, helping Republican candidates in next month’s special elections to fill nine legislative vacancies, including six left by lawmakers who joined the Malloy administration.

“Some of the people who were involved in my campaign team, including Justin Clark, we’re still sort of assembled and helping” other candidates, Foley said.

Foley intends to promote Clark for Republican state chairman should Chris Healy decline to seek another two-year term in June.

“If Chris is not planning on staying in the role, then I think Justin Clark would make an excellent party chair,” Foley said. “He’s got a lot of experience at hard work, and he’s young and energetic. He knows what needs to be done.”

Foley also is organizing a group that will develop issues, but he said it is not intended as a shadow government.

“I am going to be forming a policy group focused on education reform and long-term economic policy for the state to make sure all the policy makers in the state are doing things for the long term and not selling the state short,” he said.

Healy, who is undecided about running for another term as chairman, said, “I think he is doing the right thing by trying to build a platform where he and other Republicans are engaged on the issues.”

Foley said the effort is not intended to oppose the policies of the new governor, whose first challenge is to cope with a deficit estimated at $3.67 billion. During the campaign, Foley said the deficit–equal to 20 percent of the state’s $19 billion budget–could be closed without tax increases.

“In many cases, we may be in alignment,” Foley said. “There are really pretty limited options.”