McKinney tests waters for governor

March 2, 2017 GMT

Passed over last time by Republicans for a more conservative nominee with wider name recognition — and political liabilities — former state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney is entertaining a run for governor in 2018.

McKinney, 52, who is from Fairfield, has kept a relatively low profile since falling to Tom Foley in the 2014 GOP primary for the state’s top office.

The 15-year state Senate veteran gave up his leadership post in the Legislature that election cycle, only to see Foley lose his rematch to incumbent Democrat Dannel P. Malloy. Foley’s campaign was dogged by issues outside the traditional economic wheelhouse of Republicans, from litmus tests on gun control to Foley’s role in the closure of a Georgia textile mill once owned by his private equity firm.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the last couple of years — and obviously it’s sort of a picked up — asking me if I’m going to run, encouraging me,” McKinney told Hearst Connecticut Media. “So I’m obviously in a position where I’m thinking about it.”

With McKinney, the GOP could seemingly take traditional wedge issues off the table against Democrats. In 2013, he voted for a gun-control package passed in response to the school shooting in Newtown, which was part of his district. He has a reputation in the party as a moderate on social issues and immigration, having supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich over Donald Trump during last year’s GOP presidential primary.

But McKinney’s upside in a general election could be an obstacle in another primary, which is when single-issue voters tend to show up at the polls, including gun owners. A number of Second Amendment groups opposed McKinney’s candidacy in 2014.

This time, political handicappers say, that may not be a deal breaker for McKinney, whose late father was Stewart B. McKinney, the longtime 4th District congressman.

“I think you would even have some elements of the party that are conservative that would have a somewhat pragmatic orientation toward the general election that they would overlook some of the moderate positions that a John McKinney candidacy would have,” said Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

Hampered by budget deficits and sagging job approval ratings, Malloy is undecided about whether he will seek a third term in 2013. A host of Republicans have either created exploratory committees or declared outright for the state’s top office, which is also drawing interest from Middletown’s Democratic mayor, Dan Drew.

“Our party needs to make sure that we don’t underestimate any of the Democrats who may be running, including Dan Malloy,” McKinney said. “I think if he does run we know what the campaign is going to be about. He’s going run a campaign of, ‘if you want to stop Donald Trump, vote for me as governor.’ ”

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