Ned Lamont announced his campaign for governor Tuesday in the same spot where he announced his grassroots 2006 campaign for U.S. senator. But the face behind the candidate was different this time — and, some suggest, the campaign is as well.
Nowhere to be seen at the Old State House Tuesday was Tom Swan, the longtime Connecticut activist who took the helm of his first statewide electoral campaign when he shepherded Lamont to his startling victory in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary.
The campaign manager standing at Lamont’s side this time was a journeyman Democratic operative: Joe Abbey the 31-year-old who arrived in Connecticut from Arlington, Va. just two weeks ago.
Abbey was the deputy campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s victorious run in 2008 in Virginia. He also ran R. Creigh Deeds’ failed Virginia gubernatorial bid last year.
“Can we just forget about that?” he joked in an interview Monday.
Abbey portrayed Lamont as someone who is not a career politician. Still, he said Lamont’s race for governor differs from his campaign for senate that began about four years ago.
“It’s a different job too, and it’s necessary to highlight a different set of skills,” Abbey said.
For starters, the main issues are different.
Lamont focused much of his remarks Tuesday on how he would entice companies to relocate here and expand Connecticut’s tax base.
(Click here to read a copy of the entire speech.)
“For 20 years, the economic pie here in Connecticut has been shrinking,“ Lamont said. “Sure, we have a revenue problem. But it’s not going to be solved by simply raising more taxes. We need more taxpayers, more jobs, more start-ups, more opportunity — a bigger economic pie.”
When Lamont ran in 2006 against U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the war in Iraq was the biggest issue of the campaign. In his race for governor it’s job creation and job growth.
Progressives, who vote in disproportionately large numbers in party primaries, flocked to Lamont in 2006. This year, progressive activists’ loyalties are divided among Lamont and fellow Democratic hopefuls Juan Figueroa and Dannel Malloy.
Many are still sitting on the fence—including Tom Swan.
The organization he runs, Connecticut Citizens Action Group, “hasn’t made a decision about what we’re doing or not doing.” He said the organization hasn’t endorsed any candidate yet and has just begun discussions with all of the candidates. He said it’s even possible the group won’t endorse a candidate this year.
But after apologizing for being boring, Swan said nothing should be read into the endorsement process, which has barely gotten underway at the organization.
When asked what he thought about Lamont’s new campaign manager, Swan said the two had lunch last week.
“He seems nice enough. Confident,” Swan said of Abbey.
Abbey said he likes to talk with previous campaign managers, win or lose, to learn about what they thought was successful and what wasn’t.
“Tom was great,” Abbey said.
Lamont Tuesday was asked about the difference between the two managers. Lamont didn’t talk about Swan. He said Abbey is very experienced in running gubernatorial campaigns and is someone who learns from his mistakes.
While Swan wouldn’t talk about it, sources said it must be painful for him to see Lamont wavering on the issue of publicly financed campaigns, which Swan and CCAG have promoted and supported for years.
“I’m going to go out there to win. I’ll be opting out of the public financing,“ Lamont said Tuesday in a question and answer session with the media. He prefaced that statement by saying what he’s been saying for several months: “I’m a big believer in clean campaigns, but I’m not going to go into this battle with one arm tied behind my back.”
On another progressive issue, Lamont said forcing employers to give paid sick days to employees is “a good idea. But my issue is jobs.”
“I’m also going to show the taxpayers we’re serious by cutting spending and reforming the way we do business,” Lamont said.
It’s not only the campaign manager that’s different this time. It’s the entire campaign.
Juan Figueroa, former president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, who is the only candidate for governor petitioning onto the ballot for the Democratic primary, said he thinks “it’s a different time and place and a different office.”
Another outsider, Tom D’Amore, the former Republican state chairman who left that party along with his boss, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., was a key Lamont campaign strategist in 2006. He is working on Figueroa’s campaign this time around.
In a phone interview Tuesday D’Amore said he’s supporting Figueroa because he’s worked with him and has seen him bring different constituencies together to solve a problem. “It doesn’t say anything personal about Ned Lamont,” D’Amore said. He said he hasn’t spoken to Swan, but he doesn’t believe that either of their absences on the Lamont campaign this time around says much. He said this campaign is different.
D’Amore said what does say something is the fact that the unions and other advocacy groups, who were with Lamont during the Senate campaign, are still on the sidelines.
“People instinctively want to pick a winner,” D’Amore said.