- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Pelto set up his card table in Hartford’s Bushnell Park on Tuesday, making a last-minute pitch to state employees on their lunch break to sign a petition to get his name on the ballot for governor.

Meanwhile, conservative Joe Visconti spent the day gathering signatures and submitting his completed petitions to local town clerks.

Both men face a 4 p.m. deadline Wednesday to submit at least 7,500 signatures from registered voters to town clerks. Visconti said Tuesday he has already submitted more than 10,000 signatures but was hoping to collect an extra 3,000 as a safety net. Pelto said he’s hopeful that his team has already collected 7,500, but is attempting to collect at least an additional 750 to cover any rejected signatures.

“The main task is to get everybody either to bring them to their town clerks or get them to us so we can bring them to the town clerk,” Pelto said.

A final decision on whether Visconti and Pelto will appear on the ballot won’t be made for possibly several weeks because the signatures need to be verified by local election officials. Av Harris, a spokesman for the secretary of the state’s office, said the candidates can submit the signatures to the state office, but those signatures will still have to be sent to cities and towns for verification.

While each hopes to become the state’s next governor, they may stand a better chance of stealing votes from Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the winner of the Aug. 12 Republican gubernatorial primary - either the GOP’s endorsed candidate, businessman Tom Foley, or Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. That could prove to be an issue for Malloy or the Republican nominee, considering the 2010 race for governor was so close. Malloy defeated Foley by about 6,500 votes.

Neither candidate is expected to qualify for public campaign financing, given the daunting requirements for third-party and petitioning candidates. But each said they plan to run grassroots campaigns, believe voters yearn for another choice and contend they will have an impact. Pelto, a vocal Malloy critic, is running as a member of the newly formed Education and Democracy Party and has drawn support from educators, many of whom are upset with Malloy’s school reform efforts and the implementation of so-called Common Core education standards. He contends his candidacy has prompted the two GOP candidates to criticize Common Core.

Visconti announced 16 months ago that he was running, on the same day Malloy signed a wide-ranging gun control bill into law in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. A gun rights advocate and an opponent of the Common Core standards, he believes he can win a three- or four-way race in November given the anger about the gun law and other issues. He’s been holding petition drives at Hoffman’s Gun Center in Newington and said he’s received a good response.

“When I’m on the ballot, Connecticut voters will have a real Republican to vote for,” said Visconti, who questions Foley’s 2nd Amendment credentials and criticizes McKinney’s support of the gun control legislation. McKinney’s district includes Newtown.

But Visconti said he is discouraged that some of his early supporters now back Foley, whom they see as having a better chance to win, rather than supporting the “person who stands with their issue.”