Foley joins Malloy as primary winner

Former U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley captured the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday night, narrowly defeating Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele in the primary election.

He will face former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy in the November general election. Trailing badly in the polls only a few weeks ago, Malloy completed a stunning comeback Tuesday, defeating Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont in the Democratic race for governor.

Malloy told the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers that Lamont called to concede shortly after 9:15 p.m. "I've won a primary and lost a primary, and winning's better," Malloy said.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, Malloy, the longtime Stamford mayor, had 58 percent to 42 percent for Lamont.

Foley had 43 percent of the vote to Fedele's 37 percent and Nelson "Oz" Griebel's 19 percent, also with 67 percent of the precincts in.

The candidates crisscrossed the state earlier in the day in a frantic effort to corral undecided voters in races that had tightened considerably in the final weeks of the campaign.

Lamont and Malloy hoped to become their party's first governor since 1991. Foley, Fedele and Griebel competed to earn the GOP nomination to replace outgoing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who chose not to seek re-election.

At a time when the state's budget struggles are annual events, all the candidates termed the election critical to turning the state's economy around.

The turnout for Connecticut's primary elections was reported to be between 25 and 30 percent, state officials said. The polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.

The campaign between Malloy and Lamont became increasingly testy in the race's final weeks, with both sides airing hard-nosed, negative TV commercials that continued on Primary Day. The final Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday showed the race in a statistical dead heat.

Lamont's ads raised old questions about why the former Stamford mayor had accepted campaign money from people doing business with the city and resurrecting an ethics probe of Malloy. And Malloy's commercials claimed Lamont had slashed jobs at his company while he walked away with enormous profits. Both men dismissed the ads as inaccurate and unfair.

Malloy, 55, had based his campaign largely on his 14-year record as Stamford's mayor, saying he knows how to make government more efficient and balance a budget. During the campaign, he hammered away at the need to shift the state's accounting over to a system that would more accurately reflect its true finances, which he termed dire.

While he received major state union endorsements, Malloy said he was determined to rein in the pension and health care benefits of state employees.

For Lamont, the defeat marks the second time he appeared to be within sight of capturing a major elective office. He overcame incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary in 2006, only to lose in the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent.

Lamont touted his business success, saying that the next governor needs to help create jobs and make the state's climate more hospitable to business. The 56-year-old cable TV entrepreneur said he would keep taxes down and help rebuild the state's big cities -- helping him land the endorsement of the mayors of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.

On the Republican side, Foley, a wealthy private investor and high-powered GOP fundraiser, had helped the Bush administration try to rebuild war-torn Iraq and then became ambassador to Ireland. Foley portrayed himself as a government outsider who would be willing to take a tough line on taxes and state spending.

Foley, 58, was also able to inject some $2 million of his own money into the campaign.

Fedele, his chief GOP adversary, touted his experience at several levels of government -- lieutenant governor, General Assembly and Stamford's Board of Representative -- and his success in building an information technology business.

He was hamstrung by his connections with Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who chose not to endorse him. Fedele made clear during the campaign that he espoused a tougher line on state spending and taxes but was unable to convince his boss to back such policies.

Fedele appeared to be making up ground in the final weeks of the campaign, but Foley clung to an 8-point lead in the final Quinnipiac poll of likely Republican voters on Primary Day.

Fedele and Foley also clashed in court over Fedele's use of the state's public finance law. A variety of rulings all upheld Fedele.

Griebel, the Simsbury businessman, enjoyed strong support in the business community but was hampered by low-name recognition among voters and a small campaign war chest.