The gubernatorial race in Connecticut heated up this summer, and with just over two months until Election Day both campaigns are already on the attack.
Tom Foley, the Republican businessman fighting to unseat Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy this November, easily won the Republican primary earlier this month, declaring in his victory speech, “Dan Malloy has had his chance. Change is coming.”
Economic issues have been at the forefront of both politicians’ platforms so far, with Malloy pointing to Connecticut’s job growth during his term and Foley arguing that Malloy’s large tax raises inhibited a full bounce back from the recession. But political analysts say that as the race continues, it may become a simple question of which candidate can portray the other in the most negative light.
“We’ve had some tough campaigns in Connecticut,” said Ronald Schurin, a University of Connecticut professor of political science. “Whether this will be the nastiest remains to be seen, but it’s already a pretty negative race.”
Just weeks after Foley’s victory in the primary, negative ads on both Malloy and Foley came out, with two coming from super PACs not officially affiliated with either candidate.
Grow Connecticut, a super PAC supported by $500,000 from the Republican Governors Association, funded an ad campaign against Malloy that includes a picture of a Gallup poll showing that 49 percent of Connecticut residents would move to another state.
“[Malloy] delivered the largest tax increase in state history,” the video concludes, “No wonder people want to leave in record numbers.”
Another ad, this one directly from the Foley campaign, asserts, “It’s sad Malloy can’t defend his policies that have failed so miserably.”
Not to be outdone, the Democratic Governors Association put $1.25 million into a pro-Malloy super PAC on Monday following a fundraiser with Vice President Joe Biden. The PAC, called Connecticut Forward, recently bought nine hours worth of television ads against Foley for a total of $840,000. The first ad shows a video of Foley pointing blame at workers for the closure of a paper mill shut down by an equity firm. The ad is simply titled: “You’ve Failed.”
Republican Governors Association spokesman Jon Thompson told the Wall Street Journal this week that there will “absolutely be future investments in the race” to back Foley.
The battle to get the most outside spending has led many to compare the race to an arms race.
“It’s the old mutually assured destruction model,” said Cheri Quickmire, the executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, a group that advocates for greater transparency in campaign spending.
Quickmire said that the amount of outside funding makes this race, “a whole new game,” adding that she expects spending in this election to be greater than it was in Malloy and Foley’s first gubernatorial standoff four years ago.
In that campaign, Foley spent around $11 million out of his own pocket, but Malloy still managed a narrow victory, securing the governorship by just 6,400 votes of a total 1.1 million.
Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said most people will have a hard time distinguishing between super PAC ads and the candidates’ ads. He predicts that most outside spending will go to ads that contrast the candidates, more often than not attack ads.
“The reason being?” Rose said, “They work.”
Though a Quinnipiac poll from May showed Foley and Malloy were initially tied, a New York Times/CBS News poll released at the end of July showed Foley leading Malloy by nine percentage points. Schurin suggested Malloy’s decline in popularity could be a result of a variety of anti-Malloy ads during the Republican primary.
Schurin, who pointed out that money alone cannot guarantee an automatic win, said he hopes spending goes toward more positive ads.
“I’d like to see ads pushing in that direction,” he said. “But I wouldn’t hold my breath.”