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Saturday, April 21 Local

Clubbing with the GOP at Mohegan Sun

Group brainstorms election strategies amidst party-like atmosphere at casino

UNCASVILLE -- It's nighttime in Uncasville, the start of a weekend of too many glasses of Sangiovese and too many spins of the roulette wheel for an untold number of "conservatives."

Left to its own devices, a wolf pack of Republicans loyal to Tom Foley goes on the prowl. They stop in the VISTA Lounge for a nightcap on the opening evening of their state party's convention at Mohegan Sun.

In the foreground of the Wombi Rock -- a man-made outcropping of glass and banquettes with bottle service and an annoying velvet rope -- a man is guzzling a chocolate martini and puffing on an electronic cigarette that emits a blue glow.

The group is scheming, plotting how they can convince Foley rival John McKinney to run for lieutenant governor instead of governor to avoid a three-way primary.

A DJ is spinning Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up."

This is how Republicans roll.

"We smoke cigars, foment about how bad things are and ogle women," a convention-goer from Waterbury says, begging not to be identified.

By Saturday morning, Ryan Bingham, the youthful ex-mayor of Torrington, acknowledges the obvious in his nominating speech for Mark Boughton for governor.

"Did everybody stay up too late last night? Is that the deal?" Bingham ribs fellow Republicans.

Boughton, Danbury's longest-serving mayor and main threat to Foley in the GOP field, finds his lost shaker of salt.

It's at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, where Boughton has opened up a tab; only in politics, they don't call it that.

It's an after-party for supporters of the mayor.

Boughton's campaign distributes 300 tickets for free drinks at $6 a pop. Try the nacho bar and lobster fritters, his handlers say.

Smartphone in one hand and a nonalcoholic beverage in the other, Boughton circulates, his voice drowned out by a cover band's rendition of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" by Big & Rich.

"Where do you get free drinks," an opportunistic delegate asks Boughton's campaign manager.

The floor is sticky. A bachelorette party shares the pseudo-tropical space. Total cost for Boughton's soiree: about $2,500.

Outside Margaritaville, a heavy-set man ambles by and looks quizzically at a Boughton campaign sign near the entrance.

His T-shirt says, "Bad decisions make good stories."

There's a nightclub next door called Mist -- complete with go-go dancers and a waterfall.

And a dress code, not that Republicans would know. They keep an arm's length.

At a roulette table, a former candidate for Congress is hypnotized by the wheel and a pile of chips won by his wife.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart isn't so lucky.

"Everybody lost a lot of money last night," Stewart confesses Saturday during her nominating speech for Boughton. "Maybe that was just me."

neil.vigdor@scni.com; 203-625-4436;http://twitter.com/gettinviggy