Statewide elections, gubernatorial elections especially, turn on a number of issues; the local economy, transportation matters, sales and property taxes, scandals and controversies, and sometimes social issues. More often than not, a combination of these contentious matters leads to an incumbent party losing or retaining a governor’s mansion. In Connecticut, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy seeks reelection, one issue has come to dominate the race: gun control. And it might be that issue which sinks Malloy.
Even amid the GOP wave of 2010, Malloy beat his Republican opponent Tom Foley by just 6,400 votes. Foley opted to give a gubernatorial run another shot in 2014, setting up a virtual repeat but without the national conditions which led votes to send a wave of Republicans into political office. Before this race began in earnest, many believed Malloy would repeat that victory and may even improve on his margin of victory.
National commentators believed the new restrictions on gun ownership Malloy imposed in the wake of his state’s nightmarish experience at a Newtown elementary school to be a pure good. Few believed it would be a major issue in the election, let alone one which would lead New England voters to recall their incumbent Democratic governor. The political class may prove to be shocked in November.
At the first gubernatorial debate of the season in the Nutmeg State, The Wall Street Journal reported, guns took center stage:
Gun control has emerged as a major campaign issue, with Mr. Foley criticizing firearms restrictions the governor signed into law in 2013 in response to the deadly school shooting in Newtown. The package included universal background checks, a ban on sales of ammunition magazines with 10 or more rounds and a ban on the sale of certain types of firearms the state defines as “assault weapons.”
The changes, Mr. Malloy said, have contributed to a declining statewide homicide rate: “I believe what we have done has made Connecticut safer.”
Mr. Foley countered that violent-crime rates were falling across the U.S., adding that the new laws inconvenience gun owners and wouldn’t prevent another mass shooting. “This was so overreaching that it went way, way beyond in what I think would have been an appropriate response to Newtown,” said Mr. Foley, an ex-ambassador to Ireland and former private-equity manager. “It’s not good leadership. It’s grandstanding.”
The situation looks grim for Malloy. The race is not widely polled, but the two public polls taken in Connecticut in late July and August both show Foley leading the incumbent by 7 points.
Foley has not embraced a laissez-faire approach to the Second Amendment – his hedging on the issue of gun ownership rights has become a major issue for a tea party gubernatorial candidate running to the right of both Foley and Malloy on guns. It is, however, fascinating that a state where a grotesque mass shooting became the impetus for a nationwide push for new gun laws may become the state that also starts to reverse them.
This post has been updated since its original publication.