Democrat Dannel Malloy is expected to win Connecticut’s gubernatorial race, pulling out a come-from-behind reelection victory over Republican Tom Foley in one of the closest and most bitterly contested campaigns of the 2014 cycle.
The race was exceptionally close, keeping supporters of both candidates up late into the night as they remained within one percent of each other for hours. However, as of early Wednesday morning Malloy has established a small lead of about 12,000 votes (out of close to 900,000 cast) that was expected to grow as uncounted areas are heavily concentrated in Democratic regions. While Foley refused to formally concede early Wednesday, he did give a speech to supporters acknowledging that a final victory was unlikely.
“Don’t get too excited because we probably have lost this race, but I’m not going to confirm that we’ve lost it until we’re sure we’ve lost it,” Foley said.
The narrow defeat represents a minor disappointment for Republicans in an otherwise excellent midterm showing on the gubernatorial slate. Republican candidates won notable victories in many solidly blue states this year, including Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and Maine. A win in Connecticut would have turned a resounding win for the party into a total rout.
The race was a rematch of another extremely close contest in 2010, which Malloy won by less than 7,000 votes out of over a million cast. Despite being a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections with a completely Democratic congressional delegation, the governor’s mansion was once again a pick-up opportunity for the GOP this year thanks to Malloy’s low approval ratings.
In his first term, Malloy quickly displeased voters by passing a major tax hike in an effort to close a large hole in the budget. Aggressive gun control measures pushed through by the governor after the Sandy Hook shooting were broadly popular, but also sharply opposed by gun manufacturers in the state and the dedicated group of voters willing to vote on gun issues. His popularity also was damaged with his own base when he repeatedly alienated organized labor by backing a pay freeze for public employees and suggesting teachers only had to show up for work to get tenure. Those missteps left organized labor less than enthused about Malloy’s candidacy, and he trailed Foley in the polls throughout August and September.
However, Malloy mounted a late charge in October and had a small but consistent lead in polls headed into Election Day. Malloy’s surge is in large part thanks to a reconciliation with the same unions whose displeasure had put him in a hard spot in the first place. Unions began to forget old wounds and instead began to favor Malloy for his support of collective bargaining rights and raising the minimum wage, both key union issues. Major unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO declared Connecticut one of the country’s most important races and channeled significant resources to the campaign.
While Malloy had the lead going into the final weekend, Foley also got a late boost when conservative independent candidate Joe Visconti abruptly withdrew and gave Foley a last-minute endorsement.
The election drew attention for possibly being the nastiest of the cycle. According to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, a whopping 70 percent of ads in the election were negative, the highest proportion of any race. Playing into the bad blood was the significant involvement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who made five trips to the state to campaign on Foley’s behalf. Christie and Malloy have an ongoing feud in which they frequently snipe at each other, with Malloy once labeling himself as the “anti-Christie” for his governing approach.
Thanks to Malloy’s win, it looks like that feud will be able to continue for several years more.
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