As Pelto fades, Visconti ramps up with pitch to gun owners

Can Twitter, the Outdoor Channel and a commercial starring the “Buckmobile,” a customized convertible that once belonged to country star Buck Owens, bring enough national gun money into Connecticut to make a pistol-packing, third-party candidate a factor in the race for governor?

Joe Visconti is about to find out. The conservative Republican and Tea Party activist, who is on the ballot as a petitioning candidate for governor, intends to use social media and inexpensive cable-television ads to appeal for money from gun owners opposed to the post-Newtown gun controls.

Certified for the ballot last week, Visconti is ramping up his campaign while a liberal Democratic counterpart, Jonathan Pelto, is conceding that his effort to qualify as a petitioning candidate likely will fall well short.

Pelto’s failure to gather sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot would mean a three-way race for governor in November pitting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the vulnerable first-term Democrat, against Republican Tom Foley and Visconti.

It is a mix that can only help Malloy.

The governor won in 2010 with 49.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Foley and Tom Marsh, a Republican first selectman who ran on the Independent Party line. With his support languishing in the 40s in most polls, another three-way race could be Malloy’s best chance at re-election.

Foley and Visconti are fighting for the votes of gun owners angry at Malloy’s successful push after the Newtown school massacre for a ban on the sale of military-style firearms, such as the popular AR-15 rifle, and large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Foley says the bill is not what he would have sought, but he has declined to say specifically what he would change. He also has said he has no plans to seek its repeal or revision.

That has given an opening to Visconti, who gathered signatures daily outside Hoffman’s Guns to help qualify for the ballot. Not expecting to get the endorsement of the NRA or the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, Visconti is making an appeal to their members.

“I’m Joe Visconti, and I’m running for governor of Connecticut, because the Second Amendment has been violated by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy,” Visconti says in ad that shows him speeding across Connecticut in the passenger seat of the Buckmobile, a car now owned by a collector in Connecticut. It is a white Pontiac Grand Ville tricked out with Colt revolvers, cattle horns and other western paraphernalia.

As the car stops, Visconti gets out and walks to the camera. He is wearing a stars and stripes neck tie over a white shirt. He rests his left hand on his hip, pulling back an overcoat to reveal a shoulder holster and handgun. He says, “Remember, what one day is your neighbor’s problem could easily become yours.”

Visconti is the first to concede the subtlety is not among the video’s virtues.

“It’s a Texas-style commercial,” Visconti said. “We’re looking at national money to put the Second Amendment issue on the map.”

Visconti’s campaign finance reports are hard to decipher: His campaign leaves blank the aggregate column in which a running count of his fundraising is intended to be kept. But it appears he had raised $17,835 as of July 1.

Malloy and Foley each have qualified for public financing grants of $6.5 million.

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