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Conn. gubernatorial candidates spar over gun law in first debate that includes all three candidates

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy took advantage of petitioning candidate Joe Visconti's first appearance at a gubernatorial debate to criticize his Republican opponent Tom Foley's position on Connecticut's gun control law.

The debate between the three candidates took place at the Garde Arts Center in New London on Thursday night. 

Visconti, a gun rights advocate who is running for governor as an independent, said if elected he’d offer two amendments to Connecticut’s new gun law. The first would repeal the ban on large capacity magazines and the second would change the definition of assault weapon.

“We will never take guns out of America. We can’t stop illegal immigrants coming here, and we can’t stop drugs coming in by the cargo load into this country. It’s not possible to remove guns,” Visconti told the audience.

That prompted Gov. Malloy, who signed the gun bill into law, to praise Visconti for his honesty. “Let me complement Mr. Visconti. At least he tells you what he thinks and what he wants to do. As opposed to Mr. Foley,” Malloy said. He 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.

Credit AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File
Conn. Republican candidate Tom Foley and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy

The new gun law passed after the Newtown school shooting hasn't made Connecticut safer, Foley responded.

“The source of the problem in Newtown, unfortunately, was a mental health issue, and the bill didn’t address mental health issues and supplying more support to families,” said the Republican.

After the debate, Foley accused Malloy of trying to distract voters' attention from the real issue in the race, which he says is the state's fiscal problems.

Originally a Republican candidate, Visconti had to submit the signatures of 10,000 registered voters to petition his way on to the Nov. 4 ballot as an independent.

The two major party candidates also sparred over the Connecticut Democratic Party’s decision to send out a mass mailing to promote Governor Dannel Malloy's re-election.

Candidates argue about Malloy's re-election mailer

The mailing is paid for with money raised for federal congressional campaigns.

Foley accused Malloy and the Democrats of engaging in illegal campaign activity. He alleged about $1 million raised for congressional campaigns was being spent on the mailer. “That (money) is not supposed to be spent on a state race. And that is what this governor is trying to do. He’s trying to circumvent the law,” the Republican said.

Malloy countered by accusing Foley of being the candidate who’s had to pay a fine of $16,000 for violating Connecticut campaign finance law.

“Sir, stop making the false accusations, please. I was not fined. I was not found to have broken the law,” Foley said, pushing back on Malloy’s accusation.

“So Tom, did you pay a $16,000 fine or did you not?” retorted Malloy.

“I did not pay a $16,000 fine.” Foley shot back.

“Who paid it Tom?” Malloy came back.

“I did not pay a $16,000 fine,” insisted Foley.

“Remember that folks,” said Malloy, turning to the audience

That exchange opened up an opportunity for petitioning candidate Visconti, to differentiate himself from his well-funded opponents.

“I can become your governor. All you have to do is go out and vote. Two million voters in Connecticut, we’ll probably have one million one hundred thousand show up. I’m already polling with 100,000 votes with $20,000 raised in 18 months. Don’t believe the cynics. Get out and vote for me,”Visconti said, appealing to voters in his closing remarks.

A recent Quinnipiac University Poll of likely Connecticut voters showed Malloy and Foley tied at 43 percent, with Visconti at 9 percent. Five percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
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