Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton’s official entrance into the 2014 race for governor Wednesday creates a four-man field of Republicans that is about to expand to five with the addition of Tom Foley, the GOP’s 2010 nominee.
Once Foley formally declares after months as an exploratory candidate, the field seems set with one possible exception: Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, who has been raising money since August with an exploratory committee.
“There’s always a possibility of somebody else jumping in, but I’ll say the window is rapidly closing, having gone down this path before,” Boughton said.
In 2010, Boughton, 49, briefly competed with Foley and two others for the nomination, then ended up as his running mate after winning a primary for lieutenant governor. After months of raising money for an exploratory committee, his announcement Wednesday was no surprise.
Boughton will seek public financing.
It’s only January, but the window is fast closing on any candidate who intends to qualify for the state’s public financing program before the GOP nominating convention in May. Delegates will want to see evidence of financial wherewithal to take on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the first-term Democrat who remained coy Wednesday about his timetable for announcing his own campaign. Malloy is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
“Frankly, if anybody was thinking about getting into the race at this point who was thinking about relying on public finance and hadn’t already started with an exploratory committee, they’d have no chance of qualifying,” Foley said.
As for his own timetable to end his exploratory efforts and formally declare, Foley said anyone serious about running will have to move soon. “In the not too distant future, you’d have to jump in with both feet,” he said.
Boughton entered the race Wednesday with money in the bank, a head start on the $250,000 in small donations he’ll need to qualify for public financing, which would provide at least $1.25 million for a Republican primary and more than $6 million for the general election.
He joins three other declared Republican candidates: Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and Joseph Visconti of West Hartford, a former town council member.
Visconti has shown no ability to compete financially, raising just $2,000 as of Sept. 30. Lauretti, who had no vehicle to raise funds until he created a candidate committee Dec. 13, is expected to formally kick off his campaign later this week.
Boughton formed an exploratory committee Aug. 14, a step that enabled him to get a jump on fundraising for governor while successfully seeking re-election to his seventh two-year term as mayor of Danbury. He raised about $15,000 in his first month as an exploratory candidate and promises to be competitive.
An end-of-year finance report for all candidates must be filed Friday with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
One of Boughton’s first orders of business was money. A little after noon, his campaign sent an email blast with a folksy subject line: “hey I need your help.”
Boughton, a former schoolteacher and former state legislator, pitched himself in the email as “a blue collar kid from Danbury,” an effort to contrast himself with Foley, a wealthy Greenwich businessman and former U.S. ambassador who largely self-funded his 2010 campaign.
Foley, who won a three-way primary in 2010, reiterated his hope Wednesday of avoiding a primary this year, saying he saw a 50-50 chance that the GOP might unite behind a candidate in May. Boughton saw that hope as unrealistic.
“Look, there’s going to be a primary,” Boughton said. “That’s pretty well cast in stone. I think the primary can be good for the party, if it is handled right.”
“Tom Foley didn’t lose the general election because of the primary in 2010,” he said.
Foley was roughed up during the primary over his record as a businessman. Lt. Gov Michael C. Fedele, who finished second in the primary, ran a series of ads portraying Foley as a corporate raider who squeezed cash out of a Georgia textile company as it slid into bankruptcy. Foley called the ads inaccurate.
Boughton followed Wednesday what Jerry Labriola Jr., the state Republican chairman, hopes will be the template for every GOP candidate’s campaign: a tight focus on Malloy.
“Under Dan Malloy’s leadership, the state’s economy has been stuck in neutral while electricity bills, traffic congestion and tax rates have all gotten worse,” Boughton said during his formal announcement. “I’m running to put people over politics and get Connecticut back on track.”
Boughton said later his impression is that Republican delegates and primary voters are shopping for a candidate who can articulate a plan for steering the state to a more vibrant economy.
“What they are really hungering for is, ‘OK, this is the status quo, but this is what I’m going to do differently,’ “ Boughton said. “The person who can articulate that message with a message that is compelling can win this election.”
That doesn’t mean ignoring his GOP competitors.
“If fired upon, I’m going to fire back. I am a mayor. I have sharp elbows, and that’s what I do,” Boughton said. “But I don’t think driving up somebody’s negatives is the game now.”