Susan Bigelow
A poll dropped this week suggesting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is “in trouble” for re-election next year. So what else is new?

Gov. Malloy’s been in constant danger of being booted out of office ever since he proposed his first budget, maybe even before. His approval ratings have hovered in the 40s in just about every poll.

There are a lot of reasons why, from a stubbornly lackluster economy to higher taxes to Malloy’s often outspoken positions on a whole range of issues from education reform to the death penalty to gun control. Here in Connecticut, we often don’t like governors who are too active. The last person to sit in Malloy’s chair did little beyond projecting a certain grandmotherly concern about the state, and her approval never dipped below 60 percent.

This latest poll, then, was less about Malloy’s re-election chances than the still-forming Republican primary field. The poll was commissioned by Tom Foley, who lost in 2010, and unsurprisingly it shows Foley with both great name recognition and the best shot at beating Malloy. This was met with a lot of eye-rolling from both Democrats and Republicans. Potential primary opponent Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury passed the poll off as fakery on his Twitter account, saying “News Flash: Dewey beats Truman in latest poll paid for by the Dewey for Pres. Comm.”

Former top Malloy aide Roy Occhiogrosso, whose Twitter feed lately is mostly barbs aimed at Foley, taunted him by saying the poll said he should answer whether he’d sign the gun bill or not.

A poll commissioned by you showing you doing awesome does seem like a clumsy way to try and intimidate the rest of the field. It hasn’t really been Foley’s month to make friends or be subtle; he recently delivered vehement testimony in favor of an ethics bill that would have made it illegal for lawmakers and their families to earn more than $1,000 from employers who benefit from state contracts.

His points weren’t bad at all, there are stories of perfectly legal ways some legislators make money that make me want to tear my hair out, but he managed to infuriate legislators on both sides of the aisle. This is a lousy way to start a working relationship with people he hopes to be dealing with on a daily basis come 2015.

Still, both the testimony and the poll did one good thing for Foley; they got everyone talking about him. In the end, that’s more useful than dodging Twitter barbs or enduring a panel of defensive legislators. In a fight for position against a weak incumbent, any publicity is good.

But how weak is Malloy, really? On the surface, it doesn’t look good for him. He has a hard time connecting with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party; many are still furious with him for his anti-union actions during the 2011 budget fight, and for embracing education reforms many see as deeply regressive and problematic. Most Republicans harbor a strong dislike for him and his policies, as well, so the governor doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. He may find himself in deeper trouble after the significant pain the current budget will likely inflict on cities and towns.

And yet, Malloy is probably in better shape than he gets credit for from the pundits, his potential opponents, and everyone else in Connecticut. Here’s a guy who governs with a bottomless pool of energy, who has probably signed more progressive legislation into law than anyone in the country, who is a regular guest on nationally-televised morning shows like Morning Joe, and who just scored a major coup by signing a landmark gun-control bill into law. He’s managed to make the legislature seem like a model of functionality compared to the sleepy, stubborn body of the later Rell years, and he’s been impressive as he helmed the state through a series of disasters from Hurricane Irene to Sandy Hook.

I’ve been disappointed in the governor over decisions he’s made, but, admirably, he doesn’t seem to care what I or anyone else thinks of him.

The big danger for the governor is that he’s not a great campaigner. But luckily for him, the quality of his opposition isn’t all that great, yet. If Foley, who narrowly lost to Malloy during the most GOP-leaning year since 1994, is the best the Republicans can come up with, they’re in trouble. The Republicans, Foley included, still don’t have much of a vision for leading the state beyond boilerplate statements about lowering taxes and making the state “business-friendly.”

They’ll have to do a lot better than that if they want to beat Dannel Malloy.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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