Fairfield's McKinney, after primary loss, has options in -- and out -- of politics
Updated 7:50 am, Thursday, August 14, 2014
A relaxed state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney is going to take a breath, visit Maine for a few days with family, then dive back into the fall election campaigns for the state's Republican team.
For the first time in 16 years, McKinney's name won't be on a November ballot in his hometown of Fairfield for the General Assembly. Instead, he'll be working for other GOP candidates, starting at the top of the ticket with Tom Foley, the Greenwich businessman who defeated him handily in the Tuesday gubernatorial primary.
During a news conference Wednesday at Foley headquarters in Trumbull, the two men said their rivalry was a thing of the past. McKinney renewed a pledge to do whatever the nominee wants in campaign support and advice.
Foley hinted there would be a place in his administration, if he can defeat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Nov. 4, but McKinney was non-committal.
"I certainly hope that he would contribute to running the state of Connecticut and helping me with that task," Foley said. "It's going to be difficult."
McKinney deflected questions about his primary-campaign criticism of Foley.
"Primaries are about turning small differences into big differences, and that was my challenge," McKinney said, continuing the tone of reconciliation he displayed the night before in his concession speech. "Tom's plan and mine are actually pretty close together and dramatically different from the approach of Dan Malloy, who's increased spending 16 percent. I'm not going to tell Tom how to run his campaign. I could probably have used some of his advice on how to run mine. He's got the right message, he's got the right background and I think he has the right recipe for what ails Connecticut."
At 50, McKinney is at a crossroads. Matthew, his eldest child, will soon be off to college, while Greyson, 16, and Kate, 14, are high school soccer players.
Friends and supporters say McKinney can do anything he wants, in state government, the private sector, local elective office in Fairfield -- maybe even an eventual run for the U.S. Senate or for the 4th Congressional District seat once held by his father, the late Stewart B. McKinney.
McKinney said he has no plans aside from working toward this general election, although he might accelerate the small beach-side marriage ceremony he and fiancee Kristin Fox, of Westport, have discussed.
"I'm going to try to be active on the campaign trail," McKinney said. "I'm not really going to do much thinking about my future until after November. I want to make sure Tom is elected. I want to make sure we have people like (Trumbull First Selectman) Tim Herbst elected (as state treasurer). We've got some great pickup chances in the House and Senate, so to the extent that I can help with some of those races, I want to help them do that, as well."
One thing he won't be doing is going back to the practice of law, from which McKinney retired more than 10 years ago, shortly into his Senate tenure.
Clock ran out
Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, said Wednesday if Foley becomes governor, McKinney could join the administration in an executive capacity. After two Foley terms in the governor's office, McKinney would only be 58.
"If Foley loses in November, McKinney conducted himself very admirably in this election," McLean said. "He nearly made up a 40-point deficit. He proved he could get votes.
"He definitely showed he's a good campaigner. In the debates, he showed a remarkable ability to communicate with the public, probably better than Foley and Malloy. That can serve him well. If the primary happened two weeks later, I think he would have won. Foley just ran out the clock on him."
"There's no doubt that John has a very bright future in our party, with possible opportunities in future municipal, federal or state offices," Labriola said. "I look forward to working with John in this critically important fall campaign and beyond."
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, a longtime friend and political partner of McKinney, said there are many ways to help the GOP without running for election.
"We need good administrators and good people to help lead administrations," said Cafero, 56, a lawyer who is also retiring from the Legislature. "There is a whole host of things he can do. I think John is very much deserving of some time to rest and get back to family time, and I think when the fall comes, his natural instinct will be involved in public service."
"I think John can do anything he wants," said state Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield, a member of the Republican National Committee. "I think John's very, very bright. I've spoken with John several times over the years about running for Congress. I'm hoping he's involved with Tom's campaign.
"Who knows afterward? He's got a wide-open future and many options. Maybe today's not the kind of day to have that conversation."