UNCASVILLE -- Republican Tom Foley, who came within a whisker of becoming governor in 2010, comfortably won his party's endorsement Saturday for the state's highest office, but will face a three-way primary in August.
The 62-year-old former U.S. ambassador to Ireland under President George W. Bush and private equity manager from Greenwich received 57 percent of the vote during the GOP's nominating convention Saturday at Mohegan Sun.
Foley's victory over a quartet of Republicans puts the party's 2010 nominee one step closer to a rematch with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in November. First, he will face a primary against Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield.
Measured in his tone of voice, and flanked by his wife, Leslie Fahrenkopf, and their twin toddlers, Grace and William, Foley characterized the election as a crossroads for the people and business community of Connecticut, who he said have suffered under Malloy's tax-and-spend policies.
"We can and must do better," Foley told some 1,300 GOP stalwarts in the casino's convention center. "We must seize this opportunity to save our state from the status quo that has got us where we are."
Democrats immediately sought to define Foley, who spent $11 million of his own money running for governor four years ago, as a callous corporate raider who would pander to big business and special interests such as the National Rifle Association.
"Mr. Foley has made millions off the backs of hard-working people by slashing payrolls and bankrupting companies," Nancy DiNardo, the state Democratic chairwoman, said in a statement. "Add that record to his stance against Connecticut's minimum wage increase to $10.10, and you have a recipe for economic disaster for Connecticut's middle class. Mr. Foley may try to buy another election, but Connecticut Democrats won't let his millions stand in the way of our progress."
Ignored by Foley for most the campaign, Boughton and McKinney both lived to fight another day, each exceeding the 15 percent voting threshold to force a primary against the establishment favorite.
"I don't think Tom Foley wanted a three-way primary," said Boughton, who was Foley's running mate -- not by choice -- four years ago.
Boughton, 50, the Danbury's longest serving mayor and a former state representative, said it's possible for Republicans not to cannibalize each other during the primary race.
"At the end of the day, we can all focus on Dan Malloy and getting him out of office," said Boughton, who pulled votes from the greater Danbury area and the eastern part of the state, home of his running mate, former Groton Mayor Heather Bond Somers.
McKinney, 50, the highest-ranking member of the GOP minority in the Legislature and son of the late U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, narrowly qualified for the primary in the waning moments of balloting.
"You always get nervous," McKinney said. "There are a lot of people that made it happen."
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and former West Hartford town council member Joe Visconti failed to qualify for the primary, but Lauretti flipped 16 delegates from his city to McKinney to help push him over the threshold.
"Mark let Shelton go," said McKinney, who called Lauretti, 59, "honorable" for his sacrifice.
Visconti, 57, who drew votes from fellow tea party members and Second Amendment activists, is already collecting signatures to try to petition his way onto the primary ballot. He needs to get the names of 2 percent of enrolled and active Republicans statewide to qualify.
"Look, the more people you have in a primary, the more unpredictable it can be," said McKinney, who Saturday morning picked lieutenant governor candidate and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, of Bridgeport, to be his running mate.
For Foley to be successful in November, limiting the damage in the primary is seen as paramount by Republicans, who haven't won a statewide election since 2006 and watched Foley limp into the 2010 general election after a bruising primary against then-Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele.
Foley quickly shifted gears into a general election mode during his acceptance speech, in which he drew parallels between Malloy and former President Jimmy Carter.
"Then Ronald Reagan rode into town," Foley said. "He liberated the private sector."
Walloped by Malloy four years ago in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford, Foley committed to helping the state's most populous cities address high unemployment.
"Dan Malloy has not created jobs in our cities," said Foley, who also vowed to rein in spending as governor.
State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said in a nominating speech for Foley that the GOP's standard bearer is not afraid to speak his mind, comparing Foley's push for ethical reforms at the Capitol to Foley's work as the head of private sector development during the reconstruction of Iraq.
"He reminded me that he's dealt with warlords," Markley said.
Boughton's surrogates claimed there is no better laboratory for a future governor than being a mayor. In Boughton's seven terms, they said Danbury has enjoyed below-average rates of crime and unemployment, compared to its peers.
"I believe that is a microcosm for what he can do for the great state of Connecticut," said former Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham, who nominated Boughton. "He's like Yoda. He always has the answer."
In the lieutenant governor's race, state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, of Stafford Springs, overcame controversy to earn the GOP's endorsement over Somers and Walker, who she claimed earlier in the week was lobbying delegates to vote against her because she is married to a black man.
Both Somers and Walker, to whom Bacchiochi apologized Friday night, qualified for a primary.
For state treasurer, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst won the endorsement over investment executive and movie financier Bob Eick, of Ridgefield, who is deciding whether to move forward with a primary.
For secretary of the state, Albanian-born immigration and criminal lawyer Peter Lumaj, of Fairfield, accepted the GOP's endorsement Friday night with 86 percent of the vote. Lumaj's introduction to politics came in 2012, when he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.
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