John P. McKinney is closing his GOP primary campaign for governor with a hard shot at frontrunner Tom Foley, branding him as “arrogant, ill-informed, uncaring” in a commercial that shows Foley scolding workers and a small-town first selectwoman outside a closing paper mill.

“You have failed, because you have lost these jobs. You failed. You have failed,” Foley says in choppy video from an encounter that went viral on the web and attracted national press last week. A narrator says, “That’s Tom Foley blaming workers for the Sprague paper mill closing.”

Newspaper editorials flash on screen as the narrator reads them as though they were bad theater notices: “Described as ‘arrogant, ill-informed, uncaring.’ Foley’s appearance, a ‘disgrace.’ ”

YouTube video

Foley again comes on screen and says, “You have failed.”

The narrator offers a sharp retort: “No, Tom, you have failed.”

On screen flashes a headline blaring the result of Foley’s previous run for governor in 2010, when Democrat Dannel P. Malloy won his first term: “Malloy beats Foley to win Connecticut governors race.”

By modern standards, McKinney was late with the ad. Political analysts in both parties were abuzz at Foley’s performance outside Fusion Paperboard in Sprague, where he scheduled a press conference to blame Malloy for the closing, only to be confronted by a manager, several unionized employees and the local first selectwoman and state senator, Democrat Cathy Osten.

McKinney and Foley had sworn off personal attacks in their ads — a promise Foley said that McKinney violated with the new commercial.

“Connecticut deserves a dialogue among candidates based on the issues that matter to voters rather than personal attacks on opponents,” Foley said in a statement. “I am committed to keeping the election dialogue to issues that matter to voters and not insulting them with the personal attacks and ‘gotcha’ politics.  It’s disappointing that John McKinney has not kept his promise and stooped to the tactics on display in his latest ad.”

In his statement Thursday night, McKinney said the episode in Sprague should be a warning to GOP voters of Foley’s vulnerability to even harsher attacks in the general election.

“Our new ad highlights the fundamental question that confronts Republican primary voters.  The media’s characterization of Mr. Foley’s appearance in Sprague, which we have highlighted in our new ad, is mild compared to what Democrats will do with this unfortunate episode, and others, in the fall if Mr. Foley were to be our nominee,” McKinney said.

McKinney said Foley should have reached out to the employees, not scolded them.

“A true leader would have offered hope for displaced workers with a clear plan for assisting them and explained exactly how he would have handled the situation differently.  I have done just that from start to finish,” he said.

Foley said Thursday that he was directing his remarks in Sprague to Osten, not the employees.

“I am disappointed, as I am sure many Republicans are, that John McKinney is again misleading the public about what I said and tries to turn the dialogue personal in the final days of the Republican primary,” Foley said. “I said in Sprague that Sen. Osten and Gov. Malloy failed to keep 145 jobs in Sprague.  I never said the workers failed.”

But Foley was arguing with the workers and Osten when he repeatedly said, “You failed.”  One of the company managers, Mike D’Auria, clearly thought Foley was saying they all shared blame. He heatedly told Foley the workers and Osten were not to blame.

“These guys worked their butts off. Every single day, I watched them work, work, work. Me, too. Her, too,” D’Auria said. “Everyone who is being affected by this worked our asses off to get this right. We did not cause this, as she did not. The market drove this business into this position.”

Until now, Foley did not dispute news stories last week that described him blaming the employees, as well as Osten and Malloy.

Democrats posted an unedited 30-minute video of the encounter on You Tube. A McKinney campaign aide also took video, but a campaign spokesman was uncertain Thursday night of the source of the video used in the new commercial.

Foley, who said this week that the only way he can lose next Tuesday’s primary would be to get hit by a bus, has campaigned for weeks as a prohibitive front runner, declining to offer specifics on a number of issues.

“Foley goes fuzzy on details” was the headline in a CT Post story Thursday describing his interview with the editorial boards of the Hearst Connecticut Media newspapers.

“Tom Foley appears to think he is entitled to this election,” McKinney said. “He offers no specifics, refuses to answer questions about his positions on issues and challenges reporters and citizens who confront this lack of detail.  I don’t believe that this will help us defeat Dan Malloy.  And the momentum of our campaign makes me believe that many others agree.”

“Three major newspapers have endorsed me in the Tuesday primary precisely because I am the only candidate who has been honest enough to offer a clear plan to reduce spending and eliminate the income tax for middle class families,” McKinney said. “Regardless of what you may think about my proposals, I have been straightforward and clear with voters.  Tom Foley simply has not.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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