Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Après Le Primary, Le Deluge

Former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley ran a soft primary campaign. Indeed, during the Republican nominating convention, when it appeared certain that potential primary challenger John McKinney would not have sufficient votes to wage a primary, the Foley forces intervened and convinced enough nominating delegates to switch their votes so that Mr. McKinney might enlist in the primary.

Concerning the delegate swap, there are two schools of thought.  According to the first, Mr. Foley was a gentleman and much too mild mannered to participate effectively in Connecticut’s political mosh pit. According to the second, the delegate swap gambit was a stroke of pure genius. In one bold move, Mr. Foley had split his primary opposition between Mr. McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton who, unlike Mr. McKinney, had rounded up enough Republican delegates to force a primary.

Mr. Boughton had allied himself with Former Groton Mayor Heather Somers, an arrangement that would supply Mr. Boughton with sufficient small money donations to quality for the public funding of his mayoralty  campaign. Alas, the best laid plans of governors and lieutenant governors are often torn asunder.  Mrs. Somers pulled the money rug from under the feet of Mr. Boughton by deciding to break their alliance and run for lieutenant governor unattached.

The primary race for lieutenant governor between Penny Bacchiochi, the nominee of the convention, Mrs. Somers and former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker soon turned into a mosh pit.

Mrs. Bacchiochi had heard rumors or whispers of rumors at the nominating convention concerning her bi-racial marriage. Her marriage to Emil Igwenagu, a Nigerian immigrant she met at a junior college reunion in Worcester, Mass., very likely was discussed during the nominating convention; it would have been very odd indeed if the delegates, brought together in convention to assemble a winning Republican gubernatorial ticket and under-ticket, had not discussed, purely as a matter of political strategy, the relevance of an bi-racial marriage to a campaign.

The discussions might have been harmless – or not.  In any case, word reached Mrs. Bacchiochi that her marriage to Emil Igwenagu was being bandied about at the convention, and she pulled the trigger. Mrs. Bacchiochi’s first husband had died of cancer, a death full of pain and agony softened somewhat by medical marijuana. Her support of a bill in Connecticut’s General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana and her bi-racial marriage are not unusual tripwires in a political campaign.

Pressed to identify the source of whispers at the convention – Who told her what and when? -- Mrs. Bacchiocci clumsily pointed in the direction of Mr. Walker’s campaign. Tightening the noose around her own neck, she made mention of a “whispering campaign,” a loaded term that suggests a political opponent had mendaciously whispered damaging untruths about a rival candidate for the purpose of denying him election, compelling Mr. Walker to pull his own trigger. The “misunderstanding” was patched up privately between Mrs. Bacchiocci and Mr. Walker, a gentleman with enough edge to survive in Connecticut’s political mosh pit, before the convention had closed shop. Under considerable fire, Mrs. Bacchiocchi had taken on water. Her unpardonable sin was to react in a human and emotional way to insulting rumors. The life lesson in this ordeal is what it always has been: Don’t start a political fight you are not prepared to finish.

Mrs. Bacchiocci had learned the hard lesson too late. While she deeply regretted the rash emotional explosion others were quick to exploit, regrets – “I should have let it roll off my shoulders" -- and apologetic patches do not win elections.

Heather Somers came from behind to win the Lieutenant Governor spot by the slimmest of margins, only 771 votes, but a sufficient number to prevent an automatic recount. The final primary vote tally was Somers 34.5 percent, Bacchiocci 33.6 percent and Walker 31.9 percent.

Mr. Foley, the subject of an ambush by Democrats in Sprague, Connecticut, already is under fire from a well-oiled, dominant Democratic Party. The corner into which Mr. Malloy and his political subalterns wish to paint Mr. Foley is “dé·jà vu all over again” familiar, that of a rich, out of touch Republican who made his fortune by grinding the faces of middle class workers in the dust.

Staff columnist for the New London Day David Collins returned to the scene of the crime in Sprague and acknowledged in an opinion piece that Foley had been ambushed by First Selectwoman and State Senator Cathy Osten and some union extras. The pro union Osten, Mr. Collins wrote, had chased Mr. Foley’s “campaign bus through town, practically biting the tires, like a mad dog.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Sprague by a two to one margin. The TV optics clearly favored Ms. Osten and the union supporters: “Foley, stepping out of a BMW, business suited, looked very much the rich Republican candidate from Greenwich. He also looked stunned as Osten, a former prison guard, went after him in front of a gaggle of reporters, calling him insensitive, unprepared, opportunistic and out of touch, hardly letting him get a word in at his own press conference.”

However, optics can be misleading. Chatting up the folks in Sprague, Mr. Collins found that the Osten-union ambush would not likely change many Sprague minds. Republicans will continue to “find Osten domineering and controlling, a prison guard run amok in government,” and Democrats will continue to like her.

Mr. Collins, not a friend of moneyed One Percenters, thinks Mr. Foley, though he “looked like a glossy Fairfield County interloper in Sprague,” may have won his point: “I think he was probably right that the triple-dipping Osten -- with her state senator and first selectwoman salaries and prison pension, she may be in Sprague's 1 percent of top earners -- should take some responsibility for a company closing its plant on the heels of a generous Democrat-sponsored aid package.”

The inevitable easy-shot political ads may cause some frothing among Democrats and political columnists, but “At the end of the day, and certainly at the end of the primary season, Foley made the point in Sprague that he meant to when he set out for rural eastern Connecticut in his BMW that day: Plants are closing in Connecticut, even ones operating on generous Malloy corporate subsidies.”

The chief complaint concerning Mr. Foley’s campaign thus far is that it lacks substance and detail, both of which are important if Mr. Foley wants to march into the governor’s mansion with a firm mandate; it is the specificity of a campaign that creates a mandate. Mr. Foley will argue that Mr. Malloy has not been able to reverse Connecticut’s march to the bottom. Mr. Malloy will argue that Connecticut’s future will be better off with a Malloy in it. And if the people of Connecticut are able judiciously to decide with their ballots what is best for them, the best man may win.

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