By Gene Sherman

Special to the Live Wire

Published April 7, 2014

In case you forgot 2010, the 2014 Connecticut gubernatorial race is shaping up to be a direct reprise: incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy vs. Rep. Tom Foley and it’s going to be really close.

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Of course, there’s still eight months until voters head to the polls and neither major party has nominated a candidate but, barring some sort of freak incident or major scandal, that’s probably exactly what’s going to happen. However, in the interest of democracy, let’s give some press to some of the underdogs on both sides.

So far the Democratic side is pretty quiet. There’s Malloy and former U.S. Senate and House candidate Lee Whitnum of Greenwich.

So far the Republican side is where the things are jumping.

Foley’s most formidable competitor is Connecticut Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. McKinney, if nominated, would most likely run his campaign from the same angle as Foley: a pragmatic non-ideologue capable of picking up independents and disaffected Democrats in a blue state like Connecticut. Though he’s certainly qualified to be running, McKinney’s biggest obstacle is going to be gaining statewide recognition; voters simply don’t know who he is. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and West Hartford Town Councilman Joseph Visconti, who have all thrown their hats into the ring, face similar recognition problems.

There’s one candidate for the GOP nomination, aside from Foley, that’s having no problem generating headlines for herself. Martha Dean, who held the Republican nomination for State Attorney General in 2002 and 2010, is hoping to capture the nomination by running to the right of the rest of the primary field. The press has been largely dismissive of Dean’s campaign because she posted a distasteful video to her Facebook page in 2012 that suggested the Newtown massacre was a hoax in the immediate wake of the shootings.

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Even though insinuating that the Newtown shootings were a conspiracy is certainly not going to play at all with Connecticut’s general electorate, Dean knows exactly what she’s doing and her campaign for the nomination shouldn’t be dismissed outright. These kinds of theories are commonplace in the darker side of Republican politics and Tea Party factions: Since senseless mass shootings, by rule, reignite the gun control debate and put 2nd Amendment advocates on defense, Obama and the Democrats must be orchestrating them, right? Complete nonsense; but also red meat to the base. The base happens to be, you know, the type of people that actually vote in party primaries in non-presidential year elections.

Aside from the craziness, Dean is actually a pretty good candidate. If you’ve been reading the papers lately, you’ll notice that the press has been fitting her into the Sarah Palin-type mold. She’s certainly ripped a few pages from that playbook: calling reporters “vermin” and lacing her speeches with references to God, guns, and umm…dreaming about Ronald Reagan (Hell Yes!) for example. But if you actually watch a speech as opposed to reading about it, you’ll notice that Dean is surprisingly well-spoken and, when pressed, her ability to control her message about the Newtown fallout is impeccable.

Thus far, Dean is the only contender in the field running an opposition to Foley that makes an iota of political sense. It seems the general messaging from the campaign goes something like this:

Tom Foley: I’m a moderate Republican that can actually be elected in Connecticut. I have more public and private sector experience than all of my opponents. Nominate me because I’m the only one that can win.

McKinney & the rest of the field: we’re all pretty much Tom Foley-lite. We have the same ideas and are running as the same type of no-nonsense business-friendly candidate. Nominate us if you’re interested in winning, even if winning is going to be more of an uphill battle than it would be with Foley.

Martha Dean: I’m a smart and strong woman with an independent kick. I won’t tailor my beliefs to the way the political winds are blowing at the moment. Nominate me if you’re steadfast in your beliefs. If nothing else, you know where I stand.

It’s safe to say that there’s not a chance in hell that Dean will become Connecticut’s next governor. However, if she plays her cards right, she might be able to stop heir apparent Foley from sweeping the GOP convention outright; especially since all the other candidates are going to do nothing but steal votes away from Foley. Dean, if she can make it to the convention, is going to consolidate the right-wing nut job vote and take all of it. There might not be enough die-hard NRA supporters in Connecticut to stop Foley, but there’s probably enough to give Dean a respectable showing and pose her well for a future run.

The Republicans will have their first major televised debate on Friday, April 11, in front of a live audience in the auditorium at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. The one-hour debate is sponsored by The Hartford Courant and FOX CT and will be broadcast on Sunday, April 13, at 10 a.m.