Although Bill Clinton is coming to campaign Tuesday night, and both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are expected to make stops in Connecticut before November, Republicans in the Nutmeg State feel "cautiously optimistic" that they will not only take the governorship that narrowly eluded them in 2010 but win other key offices as well.
"[GOP gubernatorial nominee] Tom Foley not only won the first televised debate but demolished [Democratic Gov.] Dan Malloy," former state Republican Chairman Chris Healy told Newsmax last Friday, the day after the two gubernatorial contenders engaged in a one-hour forum hosted by the "Norwich Bulletin" newspaper.
Malloy is considered unpopular and politically vulnerable for orchestrating a record $1.8 billion tax increase through the Democratic-controlled state legislature. Throughout the hour-long debate, Foley, Greenwich investment banker and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, focused exclusively on his theme that Connecticut's economy has been devastated by the tax increase and what he called Malloy's "anti-business agenda."
"The governor is driving jobs out of the state," said Foley, citing "overzealous regulations," and new mandates on business, "He is anti-business."
Malloy hit back hard, attacking Malloy as a wealthy man out of touch with the middle-class and charging that the Republican hopeful wants to repeal the state's tough gun control law passed after the Sandy Hook school shootings last year.
"And Tom just smiled and chuckled at it all," said Healy, "Malloy was the obstreperous prosecutor, going on the attack, and Tom handled it well. It was the first Nixon-Kennedy debate all over, and Malloy was Nixon and Foley was Kennedy."
Four years after Malloy edged Foley by less than 6,500 votes in one of the closest contests in state history, polls have almost universally shown the Republican leading the Democrat in their rematch. The last Rasmussen Poll before the debate showed Foley beating Malloy by a margin of 45% to 38% margin among likely voters statewide. In a recent Gravis Marketing poll, Foley's margin was 46% to 38%.
"I think you'll see the ‘undecideds' start to break for Foley in the next polls," said Healy. "That's what usually happens when a challenger leads an incumbent at this point."
Healy and others feel that a big win by Foley could be accompanied by their party's capture of other offices that eluded them and thus give the state GOP a much-needed "bench" for future elections. With governor and lieutenant governor elected as a team, a Foley win would give the state's second-highest office to former Groton Mayor Heather Summers.
In addition, there is a growing enthusiasm among Republicans over their nominee for state treasurer, Trumbull First Selectman Timothy Herbst. Known as the "Richard Nixon of Connecticut" for his hard-hitting campaign, Herbst, 34, is now considered to have the best chance of winning a lower statewide office by unseating four-term Democratic incumbent Denise Nappier.
Republicans also believe they are at least even money to unseat Democratic U.S. House Members in the 4th and 5th Districts and to win the four seats necessary to take control of the state senate (which Democrats now control with 22 seats to 14 for the GOP).
The last time an incumbent governor of Connecticut was beaten for re-election was in 1954, when Democrat Abe Ribicoff edged Republican Gov. John Davis Lodge (with anti-tax conservative and industrialist Vivian Kellems running as an independent).
"Gov. Malloy has problems in his own party," former State GOP Chairman Dick Foley (no relation to Tom) told us, "He identifies with the gun control law passed after Sandy Hook and on paper, one would think it was popular. But actually, there are many gun clubs in the state—especially in Eastern Connecticut—and many of their members are blue-collar Democrats. They don't like the gun control law."
Foley, son-in-law of former Republican National Chairman Frank Fahrenhopf, is more centrist than conservative Republican. Like virtually every Connecticut Republican in elective office, he calls himself "pro-choice" and says he won't touch the state's liberal abortion law. Unlike Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Snyder of Michigan, Foley has showed no sign he wants to duel with his state's public employee unions and signaled he will leave alone the binding arbitration law they strongly favor.
Connecticut last gave its electoral votes to a Republican for president in 1988 and last elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1982. But the state did elect Republican governors four times in a row from 1994-2006 and GOP leaders are counting on that tradition again in 2014.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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