It’s happening again. You know, the phenomenon of running against someone other than your actual opponent. As I wrote in this space earlier this year, Republicans in legislative races used the tactic of running against unpopular Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, just as Democrats still run against George W. Bush.

Now, just as the 2014 governor’s race is in its nascent stages, the Malloy campaign, such as it is, has decided it wants to run not against Republican Tom Foley, the likely nominee, but against failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Malloy has tried to distance himself from the comparisons. It would be unseemly, after all, for a sitting governor to go on the attack against a potential opponent almost two years away from the next gubernatorial election. So he has sent his out tart-tongued henchman, Roy Occhiogrosso, to do the dirty work.

Occhiogrosso was all too happy to oblige. He immediately took to Twitter and tweeted like a chief spokesman on steroids — Mui Occhiogrosso, if you will. He dug up an old photo of Foley applauding Romney at a news conference in Connecticut with the caption “A match made in heaven.” Dubbing his boss’ likely opponent “Tom-ney” and “Mitt Foley,” Occhiogrosso then tweeted out an old Paul Krugman piece attacking supply-side economics, of which he insists Foley, a former private equity boss, is a blind disciple.

Then Occhiogrosso got into a virtual shouting match with Foley in separate interviews the two men gave to CT News Junkie’s Christine Stuart.

Foley, who lost to Malloy in the 2010 gubernatorial race by all of 6,000 votes of 1,145,799 cast, is itching for a rematch. And, given Malloy’s dismal approval ratings, Foley would be a strong contender, much stronger than any of the other GOP candidates who have been mentioned (House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, Senate Leader John McKinney, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton).

It’s a bitter irony that often the most damaging attack narratives originate not from general election opponents but from intraparty rivals during the primary process. During the 1988 presidential campaign, for example, it was candidate Al Gore who first raised the issue of a furlough program for violent offenders in Massachusetts, where the administration of then-Gov. Michael Dukakis gave a weekend pass to violent convict Willie Horton, who was serving a life sentence for murder and escaped from a weekend pass to commit a brutal assault and rape in Maryland. Upon hearing of this outrage, the campaign of Republican George H. W. Bush was all too happy to bludgeon a stunned Dukakis about the head with it.

Likewise, in the most recent presidential campaign, it was Romney rivals Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich who first accused the founder of Bain Capital of “vulture capitalism.” President Obama perpetuated that narrative even after Romney secured the nomination and it was surely a factor in Obama’s re-election victory.

Here at home, the first to raise Foley’s background in private equity was then-Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele (see above), who hit Foley hard over his company’s role in acquiring Bibb, a textile manufacturer in Georgia that eventually went bankrupt and slashed jobs, even as Foley’s management firm collected $20 million in fees. Foley, of course, accused Fedele of misrepresenting his record at Bibb. Malloy then took the ball and ran with it in the general election, producing an ad with former Bibb employees saying Foley was a liar. You’d be a fool not to think Bibb played a role in Foley’s razor-thin defeat.

But that was then; this is 2012. Malloy’s approval ratings are still below 50 percent. He rammed through a huge tax increase last year that has still left us almost half a billion in the red this year alone, with the outlook for the following two years even grimmer.

Mark my words: Tom Foley is no Mitt Romney. Romney had to run so far to the right in order to secure his party’s nomination that he had little credibility when he switched course in the general. Foley will be under far less pressure from the relatively moderate Connecticut GOP. Furthermore, Romney committed several gaffes (e.g. “The 47%,” “not concerned about the very poor,” “Corporations are people”) that reinforced the narrative that he was a clueless plutocrat. Foley, on the other hand, showed no such tendencies in 2010.

I’d say Foley will be a formidable candidate in 2014 and Malloy’s people know it. Why else would Occhiogrosso attack Foley with such ferocity two years out? Oh, I forgot. Roy might be doing this just for sport . . .

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.