By SUSAN HAIGH
NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took advantage of petitioning candidate Joe Visconti’s first appearance at a gubernatorial debate Thursday to criticize Republican Tom Foley’s nuanced position on Connecticut’s gun control legislation, praising Visconti for his outspoken opposition to the law.
“At least he tells you what he thinks and what he wants to do,” Malloy said of Visconti, who said he would push to repeal provisions in the law that ban large-capacity ammunition magazines and expand the state’s ban on assault weapons. Malloy then accused Foley of “whispering” to gun rights activists that he would sign legislation repealing the gun control law if such a bill reached his desk.
“I was insinuating that somebody wants to have it both ways. Joe doesn’t. He’s pretty clear on what he would do,” the Democratic incumbent said after the debate, adding how Foley “couldn’t bring himself to talk about that” during the hour-long debate at the Garde Arts Center in New London.
Foley reiterated Thursday that he believes the gun control legislation passed in the wake of the mass school shooting in Newtown hasn’t made Connecticut safer, didn’t focus enough on improving available mental health services and took away the rights of many law-abiding citizens. With numerous gun rights advocates in the crowd of about 1,500 people, Foley accused Malloy of going “willy-nilly in the direction he wanted to go” with the gun control legislation but did not say anything like Visconti about which specific parts of the law he opposed.
Instead, he repeated how he doesn’t expect the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to pass legislation that would repeal the law. After the debate, Foley accused Malloy of trying to distract voters’ attention from the real issue in the race, which he contends is the state’s fiscal problems.
“I think the governor is trying to again divert the discussion away from his record and the condition that Connecticut is in,” Foley told reporters.
The debate was sponsored by Connecticut Public Broadcasting and The Day of New London. While it was the fifth debate in the governor’s race, it was the first in which Visconti participated. Originally a Republican candidate for governor, Visconti had to submit the signatures of 10,000 registered voters to petition his way on to the Nov. 4 ballot. He urged voters to give his candidacy a chance, pointing to how his standing has improved in recent polling.
“Don’t believe the cynics,” he said. “Get out and vote for me.”
A recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed 43 percent of likely voters said they’d vote for Malloy, 43 percent said they’d vote for Foley and 9 percent said they’d back Visconti. Five percent were undecided. The telephone survey of 1,085 likely voters, conducted Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Foley and Malloy clashed Thursday night over how this year’s contentious election is being funded. Foley criticized Malloy and the Connecticut Democrats for pushing ahead this week with plans to send out a political mailer that supports the governor but is paid for with funds raised for federal candidates. Election advocates contend such funds are governed by less-restrictive rules than state campaign funds. But the Democrats claim the mailer is part of a get-out-the-vote effort, something permitted under federal law.
Meanwhile, Malloy accused Foley of being the only candidate on the stage to have been “fined” by the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Foley insisted he was never fined. After the debate, he said a “settlement” was reached last year with the commission. He ultimately agreed to pay for a $15,505 public opinion poll that was conducted before he announced his candidacy by a Delaware corporation that listed Foley as its treasurer. The SEEC had claimed the poll was a political campaign expenditure.
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