Foley follows a unique playbook in GOP race for governor

Tom Foley and his wife, Leslie, at right, greet supporters at VFW Post 201 in Waterbury.

CT Mirror

Tom Foley and his wife, Leslie, at right, greet supporters at his campaign announcement in January.

Republicans will be asked to endorse a candidate for governor next month without knowing if their front-runner, Tom Foley, intends to abide by the spending limits of the state’s voluntary public financing system or once again rely on his personal wealth to oppose Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Foley, 62, who spent nearly $11 million of his own money in 2010, only to lose by 6,404 votes in the state’s closest gubernatorial race in 56 years, said in an interview Wednesday evening he will not publicly commit to a financial strategy until after the GOP convention May 17.

One of six candidates seeking the nomination, Foley is alone in keeping secret how he intends to finance his campaign, just as he was the only candidate to skip last week’s televised debate in Hartford or to decline invitations to attend any other debate before he knows who has qualified for a GOP primary.

In the race for the GOP nomination, there is Foley and then there are the candidates trying to pitch themselves as the best alternative to Foley. The former U.S. ambassador to Ireland is betting that the party will conclude there is no reason to choose among the alternatives.

“The question is who can win. I think when I’m talking to delegates, the overwhelming majority recognize I have a better shot at beating Gov. Malloy than my Republican opponents,” Foley said.

On what basis do they make that judgment?

“We don’t really get into that,” Foley said. “That’s just acknowledged.”

Foley said he is not taking the nomination for granted, but he spent Wednesday on outreach in Bridgeport and Hartford, part of a strategy to minimize the huge urban pluralities Malloy won in 2010. Some of the meetings were arranged by Regina Roundtree, who oversees black outreach for the GOP, a volunteer post.

According to his most recent campaign finance report, Foley paid $3,000 to Roundtree in late February through her consulting company.

His competitors say there is no basis for Foley’s confidence.

They say his name recognition from 2010 is responsible for his lead in the only public survey of 2014: a Quinnipiac University poll in March that showed Foley preferred by 36 percent of Republican voters, compared to 11 percent for Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, 6 percent for Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and 3 percent for Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield and Joseph Visconti of West Hartford. Martha Dean of Avon was not yet in the race.

“Clearly, given the fact that I’ve outraised all the other candidates by a significant margin, I think delegates understand I’ve gotten broad-based support throughout this state for my campaign,” McKinney said. “I think they also can look at it and say that in many ways this race is still wide open.”

McKinney, Boughton, Lauretti and Dean all are publicly committed to seeking public financing, which requires them to raise $250,000 in donations of no more than $100. Foley said he intends to qualify for public financing, but he has not decided whether to accept it.

Participants must agree to abide by spending limits of the qualifying funds and the public grants: about $1.25 million in a primary and $6 million in the general election.

McKinney raised $178,561 through March 31, followed by Foley at $131,511, Boughton at $121,089 and Lauretti at $110,525. Visconti has raised less than $12,000 since last year, and Dean has raised $7,985 since become a candidate March 11.

No further campaign finance disclosures are required until July 10.

“I think the message is we have a competitive race,” Boughton said. “The door is wide open for the candidate or candidates who can put together a coalition of delegates.”

On May 17, any candidate who wins 15 percent of the vote at the Republican convention automatically qualifies for a primary in August. Foley said he still has hopes of avoiding a primary.

“I am happy and flattered I am the front-runner. I think one of the phenomena I’m sensing now is a movement toward unity around a candidate who can win in the fall,” Foley said. “That’s pushing people in my direction.”

His opponents say Foley either will have the same resources as they do under public financing or he will have to become a self-funder. Neither scenario is likely to enhance Foley’s appeal, they said.

Democrat Ned Lamont largely self-funded campaigns for U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010, losing both times. Republican Linda McMahon spent a combined $100 million on U.S. Senate races in 2010 and 2012.

“None of my Republican opponents are going to have the same availability of resources that I’ll have, whether I take the public financing or not,” Foley said.

Foley, who was a major fundraiser for George W. Bush, said he was referring to “the ability to bring money into the party, which can now coordinate with the campaign. There are a lot of other players that come into these races.”

Foley said outside groups can spend money on the race, but he did not say why they might be more willing to support his campaign, as opposed to a different GOP nominee. Foley has a relationship to two independent-expenditure groups, but he said he has no plans to contribute to them or any other group that might try to influence the race for governor.

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