Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is under fire as the election season draws to a close, and he’s not even on the ballot. Republicans are gleefully rolling out mailers and videos tying Malloy to Democratic incumbents, taking advantage of voter discontent and Malloy’s dismal approval ratings.
Even if the attacks don’t lead to much in the way of gains in the legislature, they’re clearly the opening salvo of what promises to be a hard-fought 2014 campaign.
Bashing Gov. Malloy is a strategy that must have been a no-brainer for the lackluster state Republican Party. They finally have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion to target and have dusted off the old argument about rubber stamps and one-party government. Better yet, the governor’s approval ratings have consistently been in the dirt since the moment he unveiled his uncomfortable but necessary budget cut and tax increase package in 2011. So why not pounce? Maybe the GOP can capitalize on voters’ sour mood and dislike for the governor, and take a few seats away from vulnerable Democrats.
However, as Senate President Donald Williams pointed out in an AP article about the attacks this week, state representative elections tend to turn on local concerns instead of bigger issues like one-party rule and the governor’s agenda. The suddenly far-tighter-than-predicted presidential race also has sucked a lot of the air out of the room when it comes to the attention voters have to spare for politics, so attacks against a governor who isn’t even up for re-election this year may not resonate.
In fact, it rarely matters who the occupant of the governor’s mansion is when it comes to state legislative races. Malloy’s processor, the popular Gov. M. Jodi Rell, had no coattails. Despite a few vague efforts to help Republican candidates, her party couldn’t make any inroads against Democrats during her tenure. Gov. John G. Rowland campaigned hard to keep his party’s narrow control of the state senate during the height of his popularity, but Democrats took control of the chamber in the 1996 elections.
That leads us to 2014. Democrats have lots to worry about, given that Malloy’s win in 2010 was razor-thin and he’s only gotten less popular since. Republicans are sure to wage a spirited campaign against the governor. Big names are already being murmured, like Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, 2010 nominee former Ambassador Tom Foley, and Minority Leader Larry Cafero, among others. If this year’s attacks are any indication, it’ll be another rough campaign with plenty of mud-slinging. Malloy may find himself sent packing back to Stamford sooner rather than later. It’s a Connecticut tradition, after all, to punish politicians who take risks and drag us, kicking and screaming, into the future. Former Gov. Lowell Weicker, who prudently decided against a re-election bid in 1994, is probably the best example.
Malloy has arguably accomplished far more in his less than two years in office than his predecessor, Gov. Rell, managed in her six, but that hasn’t helped his popularity at all. His major problem is that he keeps trying to actually fix the state instead of patting us on the head and reassuring us that things will surely get better someday. His first year was a whirlwind of enacted progressive legislation, tax raises and service cuts, an ugly budget fight that recast the state’s relationship with its employees, and a high-profile but controversial jobs package. His second year featured a bitter education reform fight with teachers’ unions. Connecticut is actually changing under Malloy — look to the construction going on at Jackson Labs and the New Britain busway corridor for evidence of that.
Malloy also understands the ins and outs of how government really works, perhaps better than any governor in recent memory. And yet, the ineffective but genial Rell always had sky-high approval while Malloy languishes under 50 percent. Rell sailed to an easy victory in her 2006 bid for a full term, while Malloy faces a far bleaker 2014. It has to be galling.
Still, Malloy’s in the job he wants, for now. When a student at a recent youth-in-politics forum at the University of Connecticut asked him if he were planning on seeking any kind of federal office, he immediately and unequivocally answered, “Nope.” He has two years left. He should make the most of it while he can.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.