by Jennifer Swift
Jun 20, 2013
08:24 PMConnecticut Politics
So Far, Cafero's Down, But Not Out
Peter Casolino/New Haven Register
House Republican leader Larry Cafero speaks to the New Haven Register editorial board.
Though a Quinnipiac University poll ranked House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, at the bottom among possible 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidates, he isn’t bowing out just yet, and will instead announce his decision about entering the race by the end of the month.
At the swearing in for newly elected state Rep. Sam Belsito, R-Tolland, Cafero told reporters he was delaying his announcement originally planned for the end of spring until the end of this month, according to his press secretary, Pat O’Neil.
Two sources inside the Republican Party said they had not heard directly from Cafero, but the “rumor mill” within the party is he will “probably run.”
But Wednesday, 17 months before the election, the Quinnipiac University poll shows that Cafero is trailing other potential Republican candidates in a theoretical Republican primary with 2010 GOP nominee Tom Foley, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.
Poll results put Cafero in last place among that group, with 4 percent of the. Foley, who lost narrowly to Gov. Dannel Malloy after winning the Republican nomination in 2010, was at more than three times the support of his nearest potential primary foe with 36 percent.
The poll also showed that Foley would narrowly lead Malloy this time if a re-match election were held today. Malloy would lead the lesser-known Republicans in the potential field, including Cafero, who trailed Malloy in the poll, 37 to 44 percent.
In a meeting with the editorial board of the New Haven Register early last week, Cafero continued his defense of his actions in an incident that led to a corruption trial involving the congressional campaign staff of former Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, where a now-convicted felon tried to influence legislation regarding roll-your-own tobacco shops through phony campaign donors. Cafero was never charged, and says the FBI told him he did nothing wrong, though tapes of his interactions with key players in the case were played at the trial.
Cafero also said he was heading to Turks and Caicos with his wife for their anniversary and would be making a decision about a run for governor after.
“That’s the last step to sort of soul search to decide that,” Cafero said.
Back from vacation, Cafero now plans to make an announcement before the end of the month, according to O’Neil.
In that same meeting, anticipating a question about whether his decision will be influenced by the roll-your-own incident, Cafero said: “Absolutely not. Did it hurt? Is it tough? Yes, but absolutely not. Not one iota and this was the toughest year I ever went through.”
When the poll came to favorable vs. unfavorable opinions of Cafero, 11 percent view him favorably compared to 7 percent who do not.
While the battle for name recognition will certainly begin among candidates once they announce, a lack of name recognition could, in a way, be a small silver lining for Cafero. In the unfavorable v. favorable poll, 81 percent of people didn’t know enough about him to make a decision either way. That could mean a majority of voters don’t associate Cafero with the scandal, or know who he is based on that one incident alone.
Members of the Republican Party are waiting to hear what Cafero’s announcement will be.
Art Scialabba, chairman of the Republican town committee in Cafero’s hometown of Norwalk, said he doesn’t yet know if Cafero will run — but says the roll-your-own incident shouldn’t be a factor in his decision.
“I’m sure it’s weighing a little bit in his decision, but it shouldn’t. He didn’t do anything wrong with that, and it was proven. He wasn’t subject to any investigation, he wasn’t the target… it shouldn’t be a factor in his decision making,” he said.
There are bigger issues facing Cafero if he wants to seek the governor’s seat, says Sacred Heart University’s Department of Government and Politics chairman, Gary L. Rose.
Rose said it’s “somewhat unusual” in the state’s history for an individual to become governor if his or her last stop was the state’s House of Representatives. Some may use the Statehouse as a stepping stone to other roles to eventually become governor, but it’s rarely the direct path, he said.
Rose said with Cafero’s extremely low name recognition, he regards him as the “long shot” to win, though “anything is possible.”
He said Cafero may not be the most “charismatic.” He can speak with a certain “dryness,” and his delivery methods don’t always translate well on television, Rose said, which is becoming more and more important in campaigns.
What is usually most important to delegates at party conventions is a candidate’s “fundraising potential.”
Rose does not view the roll-your-own scandal as a major issue if Cafero declares his candidacy. By the time the nomination process comes around, the issue will likely be old news, he said.
“The whole roll-your-own scandal, I wouldn’t say that’s going to bring Larry Cafero down. I think there are other variables there that will,” Rose said.
State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Waterbury, co-authored an ethics bill promoted by Foley this past legislative session, and co- wrote an op-ed in the Hartford Courant with him this week on the issue, but he’s not brushing Cafero aside.
“He is a very effective speaker, and he makes the case, he can make the Republican case very well, and with great wit, which is a powerful weapon,” Markley said of Cafero.
But he said the lawmaker’s demeanor can come across differently on local levels with town committees versus up at the capitol.
Even though Foley already has a lot of name recognition because he was previoiusly the nominee for the position, Cafero stands a chance, he said.
“He’s a good enough campaigner, and I think if he chooses to, I think he has a chance. I don’t think he can be dismissed, and I wouldn’t lean too heavily on a poll taken this far out,” Markley said.