Six declared Republican candidates for governor of Connecticut are gearing up to turn the governor’s office red by overcoming a Democratic opponent they assume will be incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Malloy has remained mum on the prospect of a second term, but his silence has not deterred a crowded field of Republican hopefuls from making their ambitions known — foremost among them Malloy’s 2010 opponent, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley.
“I hope and expect [Gov. Malloy] will run,” State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said. “There will be no other Democratic candidates if he decides to run.”
Looney identified Foley as one of three principal Republican challengers, also naming Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney ’86 as “serious” contenders with the “basis to seek the [Republican] nomination.” Connecticut State Sen. Toni Boucher, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and former West Hartford Town Councilor Joseph Visconti have also declared their intentions to seek the nomination.
Foley, a businessman and former ambassador is the only candidate to have outpolled the incumbent governor in a June 2013 Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters. Foley fell to Malloy in the 2010 race by less than 1 percentage point. Chris Cooper, director of communications for the Foley campaign, said Malloy is highly vulnerable — namely on the economic front.
“We call it ‘Malloy math,’” Cooper said, referring to the governor’s budget, announced last week. Malloy’s calculation of a $500 million surplus is based on borrowed money and delayed bond repayments, Republicans allege.
“Republicans all agree on one thing, and that’s that the governor has done a poor job … that’ll be the overriding point of discussion,” Cooper added.
Boughton said his record offers an attractive alternative to the governor’s. He said he considers himself a “blue-collar Republican” — someone who understands the plight of working people. Politicians who “haven’t struggled to pay a mortgage” do not have the necessary experiences to develop policies to address those issues, Boughton said.
Boughton said he plans to make the race about one issue: jobs.
“There are no other issues,” he said. “The rest of the stuff is meaningless if you can’t pay your mortgage.”
Boughton added that he is participating in the state’s public financing system — the Citizens’ Election Program, which awards participating candidates $1.25 million for the primary and then $6 million for the general election once they raise $250,000 in small donations from at least 2,500 donors.
Malloy used the program in 2010. Foley did not. He spent $13 million in the race, $11 million out of his own pocket.
Cooper said Foley is still weighing the prospect of using public financing this time around. He plans to raise the requisite money first and then decide whether to participate.
McKinney said he plans to use public money. As of Tuesday evening, he had raised $150,000, he said — and had raked in 1,600 individual contributions toward the required 2,500.
Echoing his opponents in saying the economy is the single most important issue in the race, McKinney said he is the candidate best equipped to build the consensus necessary to make compromise. He said his tenure as minority leader proves he has the ability to lead, even in a body where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans.
Both McKinney and Boughton said they are confident Malloy will ultimately run for re-election. McKinney said delaying the announcement gives the governor political cover — allowing him to claim election-year proposals are “not … political … because he’s not an announced candidate.”
“Everyone is waiting to hear what Gov. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will do,” said James Hallihan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party. “I can say that the governor has said that they will make their decision together.”
Hallihan dismissed criticisms of Malloy by saying the governor has turned around the $3.6 billion deficit he inherited when he took office in 2011. He said the Republican contenders have attacked Malloy’s fiscal record without providing specific plans for spending adjustments they would make. Hallihan added that the party is preparing for the Republican candidates to pour in considerable national money, including from political action committees and special interest groups.
Visconti, who calls himself a Tea Party and gun rights activist, said he will not be using public campaign funding because he plans to conduct significant fundraising outside of the state.
“We’re looking to nationalize the race,” Visconti said. “What that means is I‘m not taking the state welfare grant money. I’m going just on my own with what I can raise.”
Lauretti, who worked as a high school teacher and basketball coach in Bridgeport, said education will also be a dominant issue in the race, given the alleged unpopularity of Common Core standards among teachers.
Boucher called for tax reform: a reduction in payroll taxes and income tax. She distinguished herself from the field of Republican candidates by saying she is “socially liberal” — in favor of a woman’s right to choose and same-sex marriage, both of which are already protected in Connecticut.
Ron Schurin, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said he gave Malloy “51 to 49 odds” against any of the Republican challengers. Crowding in the Republican field could ultimately weaken the party’s nominee, benefitting Malloy, Schurin added.
“Everybody knows — the [Democratic] delegates know — that Dan Malloy is going to run for governor again,” said Gary Rose, chair of the department of government and politics at Sacred Heart University. “I don’t think he needs to put himself in the fire yet because he will be the Democratic nominee. It’s kind of a stealth campaign he’s running anyway.”
Both Party conventions will be held on May 16.