The tradition of running against an adversary who is not your actual opponent is alive and well in Connecticut. As I observed earlier this month, given the torpid state of Connecticut’s economy and the klutziness of its chief executive, state Republicans might do well to run in 2012 against unpopular Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, who isn’t even up for re-election for two more years.

But in the last couple of weeks, an attractive bogeyman has emerged for the other party — a target so alluring that, given his recent track record, he might very well be the gift that keeps on giving.

After pulling within seven points of Obama earlier this month, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has fallen behind by 21 points in Connecticut. And Romney’s performance over the last few weeks has been so abysmal that he is causing Senate candidate Linda McMahon to carve out a chasm between her and Romney big enough to throw Hulk Hogan through.

It’s bad enough to have to disavow the madness of Rep. Todd Akin, whose loopy understanding of the female anatomy got him in trouble this summer when he suggested a woman’s reproductive functions shut down during a “legitimate rape.”

But to to disown the controversial comments of the presidential standard bearer of your own party is particularly painful. After all, Romney’s name will be at the top of the ballot and recent polls have suggested that McMahon, despite recent missteps, has nonetheless drawn even with Democrat Chris Murphy, who himself has come under withering attack for a series of personal financial problems.

The problem is that in her attempt to distance herself from Romney, McMahon has exposed herself as something of a hypocrite. A year ago, McMahon told WTNH’s Mark Davis that she would “like to see everyone pay their fair share. Forty-seven percent of the people today don’t pay any taxes, so let’s have a fair tax code where everybody pays their taxes.”

McMahon’s explanation that she was merely citing a fact doesn’t cut it. For one thing, the statistic only holds up for those not paying federal income taxes — not “any taxes,” as McMahon put it. Like Romney, she also suggested the 47 %, many of whom are veterans or lower-income seniors on Social Security, weren’t paying their fair share. This is political poison for seniors or independent Baby Boomers who struggle to take care of elderly parents.

So what is a Connecticut Republican to do? Ask Andrew Roraback, a moderate career state legislator running for Congress in the highly competitive 5th District. His Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Esty, herself a moderate who has veered left to win back labor union support, has been smacking Roraback around for Romney’s comments.

When Roraback did not respond to her first volley, Esty put out a second press release. Evidently, she has taken umbrage not at Roraback’s embrace of the 47 % remark (he has not embraced it), but at his failure to publicly condemn it.

Inasmuch as they “share a ticket,” Esty spokesman Jeb Fain said, “Sen. Roraback needs to let voters know whether he also shares Mr. Romney’s views that he shouldn’t worry about them if they are seniors or veterans, working or middle class.”

What nonsense. Ask anyone who knows Roraback whether he cares about the middle class and the less fortunate. He couldn’t have survived for 12 years as a legislator in Connecticut’s 30th Senate district, which includes Torrington and Winsted, with a go-it-alone attitude toward those who are down on their luck.

But hey, politics is played like a tennis match. Hit the ball hard and hope it lands barely in the court. If the ball is returned, be ready to put it away at the net.

“It’s become increasingly clear that Elizabeth Esty wishes she was running against Mitt Romney,” Roraback replied. “But she’s not running against Mitt Romney, she’s running against Andrew Roraback.”

Yes, and two can play at that tennis game. Now maybe Roraback can run against Gov. Malloy, whose dismal Connecticut approval ratings rival those of Romney.

I can see Roraback’s return of service: “Elizabeth Esty and Dannel Malloy shared a ticket. And Mr. Esty is in Malloy’s cabinet. Ms. Esty needs to let voters know whether she also shares Dannel Malloy’s views that we shouldn’t worry about a $1.8 billion tax increase that has harmed family finances and increased unemployment in our state.”

Advantage Roraback.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.