Martha Dean, a favorite of tea-party activists and gun owners, announced Tuesday she is running for governor, giving the Republican field of a half-dozen candidates its only woman and its strongest conservative contender.
Dean declined to discuss her campaign in detail until March 18, when she holds her first press conference as a candidate, but she said she intends to reach beyond gun rights and the tea-party issues of small government.
"My following goes way beyond those groups," Dean told The Mirror. Her announcement Tuesday was an acknowledgement that she already is reaching out to groups for support, making it likely that word of her candidacy would begin to leak, she said.
Dean, 54, of Avon, was the Republican nominee for attorney general in 2010, losing to Democrat George Jepsen.
A copy of her announcement was immediately posted on the website of a gun rights' group, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. But Scott Wilson, the president of the group, said CCDL has not endorsed a candidate.
"It puts a couple of pro-2A candidates out there," Wilson said of the Second Amendment. Dean already is scheduled to address his group, he said.
Tom Foley has said he does not intend to seek the repeal or revisions of the gun-control legislation passed last year in response to the Newtown mass shooting, but he has been the default favorite of many gun owners.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, Foley was trailed for the GOP nomination by Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield and Joseph Visconti of West Hartford.
Foley, the GOP nominee in 2010, was favored by 36 percent of Republican voters, while 35 percent expressed no preference. The rest of the GOP field: Boughton, 11 percent; Lauretti, 6 percent; and McKinney and Visconti, 3 percent.
McKinney, who represents Newtown, voted for the gun law. Boughton is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun-control group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Visconti is a supporter of gun rights, but he's shown no capacity to raise significant campaign funds.
Dean has been present at many public events in recent months, including an observance of Martin Luther King Day at the State Capitol in January. But she demurred when asked if she would run for office in 2014.
On her Facebook page, Dean has been critical of the GOP field.
She asked if Foley's support for a minimum wage increase, which was strongly supported in a recent Quinnipiac poll, was "leadership by polls?"
Dean celebrated McKinney's fall to last in the same poll and wished the same for Boughton: "ONE OATH-BREAKER DOWN. NEXT UP: BOUGHTON." Oath breaker is a reference to officials seen by gun owners as failing to defend the constitutional right to own firearms.
Dean's entrance comes on the same day that Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, confirmed she would end her exploratory campaign for governor and instead seek re-election to the state Senate.
Jerry Labriola, the Republican state chairman, declined comment on Dean's candidacy until he speaks to her.
"She placed a courtesy call to me, but we haven't connected," he said.
In 2010, Dean filed an unsuccessful lawsuit a week before the election, challenging whether Jepsen met a statutory qualification of having practiced law in Connecticut for 10 years.
Dean was criticized by some Republican leaders in January 2013 after posting a comment on Facebook that they said lent credence to Newtown truthers who questioned whether the mass murder occurred or whether it was part of a conspiracy.
At the time, her only comment was: “We all love kids and we all mourn the tragic loss of school staff and children at Newtown, but we must never fear asking questions — or posting questions asked by others.”
On her Facebook page, Dean recently thanked Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association for a speech in which he said increasing gun ownership was a reaction to a corrupt government.
“It’s why more Americans are buying firearms, not to cause trouble, but because that America is already in trouble,” LaPierre said. “When government corrupts the truth and breaks faith with [the] American people, the entire fabric of our society is in jeopardy.”