Greenwich businessman Tom Foley captured the Republican State Convention endorsement for governor Saturday on the first ballot, riding on a wave of just over 100 last-minute vote switches.
Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele of Stamford and Oz Griebel of Simsbury, the former president of the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance, both captured enough delegates to force a primary. Both candidates said they will carry the battle for the nomination to an Aug. 10 vote.
Former Congressman Larry DeNardis of Hamden and Branford financial analyst Christopher Duffy Acevedo fell well short of 15 percent of the delegation vote, the minimum amount needed to qualify for a primary.
Though Fedele lost the convention battle, his choice for a running mate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, easily won the endorsement for lieutenant governor, though he also could face a primary challenge.
The rest of the GOP convention winners were: Darien businessman Jack Orchulli for comptroller, Jerry Farrell Jr. of Wallingford for secretary of the state; Martha Dean of Avon for attorney general; and Newington Mayor Jeffrey Wright for treasurer. Farrell could face a primary challenge, and Dean is certain to be in one against Glastonbury lawyer Ross Garber.
Foley held 607 votes after initial balloting in the gubernatorial contest, about 100 less than he needed to win a majority of the convention.
But party rules allow all delegates to switch their votes before taking a final tally, and Foley immediately began to pick up large numbers of DeNardis’ delegates in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes New Haven and the former congressman’s home town of Hamden.
When the smoke cleared, Foley who finished with 710 votes, or 50.7 percent of the total, compared to 427 for Fedele and 243 for Griebel.
As the convention wrapped, Foley, who has repeatedly pitched himself as the political outsider needed to fix a broken establishment in Hartford, praised delegates for a historic first: endorsing a gubernatorial candidate never before elected to any office.
“You have responded to the mood of the electorate for a change in direction,” he said.
In a brief, 10-minute address, Foley spoke of “a vision of Connecticut thriving again” with good jobs and a government that rewards business innovation. “Connecticut can be this place, but it is not today. We have a lot to do.”
First on that to-do list, Foley said, is to reform a “bloated, over-reaching state government” that demands high taxes to support itself. “Our citizens are not happy where we are. Too many of our young people seek opportunities elsewhere.”
Foley also repeated his pledge not only to wage a tough campaign, but to work hard to rebuild dwindling Republican minorities in the state House and Senate.
“To achieve our vision for the future of Connecticut we must elect more Republicans,” he added. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. It will not be here forever.”
Another key factor in Foley’s win may have been a last-minute decision to urge former state Rep. Lenny T. Winkler of Groton to enter the race for lieutenant governor.
The front-runner among GOP gubernatorial candidates in the last Quinnipiac poll, Foley had surprised some political observers by coming into this weekend’s Republican State Convention without having endorsed a running mate.
There were no other Republican candidates besides Winkler from the eastern half of the state, and the 2nd District, which covers Windham, Tolland, New London and portions of Hartford and Middlesex counties, chose Foley two-to-one over Fedele.
Foley has repeatedly described himself as a political outsider, but Fedele noted that the convention winner is a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, an appointment which doesn’t happen “unless you are very much an insider.”
Fedele, who also has pledged to downsize government and attach unemployment, also has drawn criticism for his obvious connection to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration, which is on pace to hand off a $3.37 billion budget deficit to the next governor for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Still, Fedele, who captured 31 percent of the vote, said he’s confident that rank-and-file voters still believe in his candidacy, and that Foley’s wealth helped make a difference among the delegates.
“I think people are enamored with that,” Fedele said. “I think our message for Connecticut is still very important.”
Griebel, who entered the race for governor just over three months ago, lost about 20 votes to last-minute switches, but hung on doggedly to 17 percent of the vote on a day when DeNardis’ numbers evaporated under pressure.
“Not bad for a rookie,” Griebel said immediately afterward. “I feel great.”
During the final wheeling-and-dealing, Griebel refused to consider any deals to transfer his support. “We’re keeping all of them,” he said. “We’re not giving any away.”
The business leader has been promoted as a hybrid candidate at a time when many voters are believed to be distrustful of the status quo in Hartford. Supporters say that means Griebel’s not a political insider, having never held state office, yet he’s well-versed in how the system works, having been tapped by Capitol officials to spearhead key transportation and economic development initiatives.
“People know Oz got in the race late but those people who chose him did so even though they knew Foley and Fedele well,” former 5th District Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, a key Griebel supporter, said. “Oz is dynamic, he’s smart, and a lot of people think he is far more electable than Fedele and even more than Foley with all of his money.”
Griebel fared poorly in the 3rd Congressional District, but otherwise drew significant delegate support from all other sections of Connecticut, another factor that supporters pointed to in predicting he would perform well in a primary.
Boughton overwhelmingly won the Republican endorsement for lieutenant governor with two-thirds of the vote.
He originally was running for governor, but dropped down to the lieutenant governor’s race to team up with Fedele, whose failure to get the Republican endorsement didn’t stop Boughton from winning.
A former state legislator, Boughton has been elected five times as mayor in Danbury, the state’s seventh-largest municipality.
Lisa Wilson-Foley, a Simsbury businesswoman, did capture enough support in her bid to become lieutenant governor qualify for a primary with 25 percent of the votes. Winkler failed to qualify for a primary with just 9 percent of the vote.
Garber, a lawyer since 1992, decided to enter the race last week after the court ruled Secretary of the State Bysiewicz, his sister-in-law, was ineligible to serve because she did not meet the 10 year “active practice” requirement set forth in statute.
But Dean, the party’s 2002 nominee for attorney general, managed to capture the Republican convention endorsement with 53 percent of the vote.
“We need to have people who have the support of the party,” said Dean, who lost the 2002 contest to Democrat Richard Blumenthal. “I have the courage and integrity to do this job.”
It wasn’t a total loss for Garber, who qualified for a spot on the Republican primary ballot and intends to run.
“Oh, yes. There will be a primary,” he said.
Both Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill and Kie Wesby both of Southbury failed to capture enough votes to gain a spot on the primary ballot.
Darien businessman Jack Orchulli, a former U.S. Senate candidate, was the lone Republican to win a unanimous endorsement on Saturday.
Going into Saturday’s convention, Orchulli was expected to face off against Bolton Republican Stephanie Labanowski in the race for comptroller.
But Labanowski said she was dropping out “in the interests of party unity,” according to Vernon party chairman Harold Cummings, who was supposed to give a nominating speech for her. “She decided she didn’t have the finances and resources to run a meaningful campaign,” he said.
Orchulli, 63, has never held public office but he has run for office before. In 2004 he captured 33 percent of the vote in a race against U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.
“No, I am not an accountant, I am a businessperson,” he told the convention in his acceptance speech. If elected, he promised to bring skepticism to government spending and to help “straighten out our financial mess.”
Wallingford Republican Jerry Farrell Jr., commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection captured the endorsement for secretary of the state with just over 62 percent of the convention.
“The next secretary of the state can play a key role in bringing business back to our state,” Farrell said, adding he would try to streamline registration requirements for small businesses to encourage growth.
Bloomfield attorney Corey Brinson, the other Republican candidate for the secretary’s post, received 38 percent of the vote. But while he qualified for a primary, Brinson said he wouldn’t announce his plans until Monday, after first consulting with his family and other supporters. “I want to do what’s best for the party,” he said.
Newington Mayor Jeffrey Wright, who converted his gubernatorial campaign into a bid for state treasurer in late March, easily won the convention endorsement over Andrew. G. White of Ridgefield, with 91 percent of the vote.
Wright, 38, who has been mayor since 2007, noted that Connecticut already boasts one of the highest levels of bonded debt, per capita, in the nation. A certified financial planner, Wright said this debt, and the dangerous lack of funds supporting the state employee pension plan, are longstanding problems he wants to reverse
“We need a cash cop if we’re going to lead Connecticut’s comeback on a strong fiscal foundation,” he said.
White, a hedge fund portfolio manager, did not receive enough votes to qualify for a primary.