Jul 25, 2013
02:42 PM
Connecticut Politics

Lack of Name Recognition Won't Necessarily Doom McKinney in Connecticut Governor's Race

Lack of Name Recognition Won't Necessarily Doom McKinney in Connecticut Governor's Race

State Sen. John McKinney.

Among the biggest challenges facing state Sen. John McKinney -- the first prominent Republican to declare his candidacy for governor -- is that outside of his home district in Fairfield County, few Connecticut voters know anything about him. 

But as past years show, being the most unknown isn’t necessarily going to doom a candidate who tries to get out in the race-- as long as they can raise enough money to get well known.

McKinney made his announcement Tuesday, slamming Gov. Dannel Malloy for taking the state in the “wrong direction.” 

The runner-up in the last gubernatorial election, former ambassador Tom Foley, has yet to formally announce his candidacy, though it’s widely suspected he will. 

A year before the 2010 election, a Quinnipiac poll found that 74 percent of voters didn't have enough information about Foley to say whether they viewed him favorably. Foley entered the race a little over a year before the general election in December of 2009.

McKinney now faces a challenge of letting voters know who he is-- and that's tied to how much money he can raise for advertising, says Doug Schwartz, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. 

McKinney will likely have his first race for the Republican primary, where he’ll have to let voters know who he is up against already well-known former candidate in Foley, should he decide to run. Then he faces a second battle of getting the general public to know who he is.

“Right now all they know is the candidate that ran last time, they don’t know McKinney. That’s his challenge,” Schwartz said. “It all depends on his ability to raise money…he needs to raise money in order to be competitive with Foley, and if he gets past the primary then at that point he’ll be known among Republicans, but he still has to get better known among the electorate, so again, he needs to raise enough to get known for the general election.”

Malloy, was in a similar category before he became a formal candidate, with 67 percent of those polled by Quinnipiac University not knowing enough about him to make a decision. This time around, Malloy hasn’t said if he’s seeking re-election yet. He officially entered the race nine months before the election last time. 

The best known candidate in the 2010 race was Democrat Ned Lamont, who built up his name recognition by beating U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary before losing to Lieberman in the general election. 

Lamont, who entered the race a month before Malloy, led early polls but eventually lost the primary to Malloy.

As Schwartz pointed out, when Lamont was first in the lead, having the name recognition from previous bids didn’t necessarily mean that would carry him through the race.

McKinney entered the race 16 months ahead of the election, earlier than most candidates did in the last election. 

McKinney isn’t well known among voters, the poll showed, despite his role at the highest ranking Republican in the state. Seventy-five percent of voters don’t know enough about him. 

Whether tossing his hat in the ring months and months away will allow him to ramp up his presence remains to be seen. All candidates in 2010 saw their name recognition climb as the campaigns moved forward—whether they had formally announced yet or were just keeping involved.

McKinney's last name should ring familiar for those familiar with the state's history. His father Stewart McKinney represented Connecticut's fourth district as a U.S. Representative from 1971 to his death in 1987.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who has run for governor and lieutenant governor hasn’t announced if he intends to run again, but said he won’t run for lieutenant governor again. He’s known even less among the voters, with 84 percent lacking enough information. 

The poll also has McKinney coming in at 37 percent against Malloy’s 44 in a general election matchup. He comes in second behind Foley in a Republican primary. 

Outside of his home district, there is one segment of the electorate to whom McKinney is well known. 

McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, championed the state's sweeping gun control legislation, which the legislature passed and Malloy signed in the wake of the Sandy Hoook shootings. That's led to him being notorious among gun rights supporters, who are already vowing to work to defeat him. 

Lack of Name Recognition Won't Necessarily Doom McKinney in Connecticut Governor's Race

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