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Only Foley slip will keep him from GOP nod

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published June 08. 2014 4:00AM

With each passing week, Tom Foley's status as the prohibitive favorite to win the Aug. 12 Republican nomination for governor grows. Last week came the announcement from Foley, who doesn't need the money, that he has qualified for public financing through the state's Citizens' Election Program. Meanwhile his two opponents, who do need the public financing cash, are struggling to get it.

To obtain a grant under the program, a candidate for governor must raise $250,000 in small contributions of no more than $100 each. The intent is to take special-interest money out of the process and prevent candidates from becoming beholden to the groups and individuals that bankroll their campaigns.

Unfortunately, the law has not been as successful as hoped in removing big money from politics (more on that later).

Foley had been playing coy for months on whether he would participate in the public financing program. In 2010 Foley, a successful business executive who holds an MBA from Harvard, spent about $11 million of his own money on his primary and general campaigns, before losing to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in one of the closest gubernatorial elections in Connecticut history.

His decision to take the money this time suggests confidence in his prospects. His name recognition established, and polls showing him in a tight race should he face Malloy, Foley has made the calculation he doesn't need to spend vast amounts of his wealth to win. Playing on a level playing field with Malloy, who for a second straight election will use the Citizens' Election Program, removes the accusation Foley is trying to buy the election.

It is not as if these guys will not have plenty of money to spend to flood the airwaves and your mailboxes with political advertisements, the bulk of which will attack the other guy. Foley qualifies for $1.35 million to spend in the primary, while both Malloy and Foley are eligible for $6.5 million to spend in the general election.

All this talk of Foley against Malloy could make people forget there is a Republican primary, which would be just fine with Foley, the winner of the nomination at the Republican State Convention.

Trying to take the nomination from Foley in the Aug. 12 primary are Senate minority leader John McKinney of Fairfield and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who happened to be Foley's lieutenant governor running mate in 2010. Right now both McKinney and Boughton are focused on trying to raise the donations necessary to get the public financing.

Also working against the challengers is the calendar. Connecticut holds its primary smack in the middle of summer. It is hard enough to get people to follow politics in the fall, when it's getting colder, the days shorter and there is not a lot to do, never mind engaging them when the weather is warm, the days long and the distractions aplenty.

The timing definitely works for the candidate who is well ahead in the polls and has the stronger name recognition, which is Foley. The gap will be tough to close.

That doesn't mean it is impossible. At this point, however, it will likely require some help from Foley in the form of a misstep. It has happened to candidates before.

If it is a Malloy vs. Foley rematch, expect a lot of outside money to flow into the race, separate of the campaigns. While a candidate accepting public financing cannot then raise money, Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United prevent Connecticut from placing restrictions on the outside money. With the race predicted to be among the closest in the country, expect a lot of it.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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