As the 2014 governor’s race starts to shape up, Connecticut’s political junkies can probably be forgiven for getting a sense of déjà vu.
We’ve got a weak economy, a Democratic leader whose approval ratings are in the 40s and who seems destined to lose, and a weak GOP field led by a wealthy self-funder from the business world. Sound familiar?
In that spirit, here’s a list of ways in which 2014 both is and isn’t 2012:
Why 2014 is a rerun of 2012
Rotten economy: It’s bad now. It was bad in 2012. It’ll be bad next year, too. Voters are frustrated, and they blame the guy at the top for not fixing things. The incumbents have responded in both cases by pointing the finger at their predecessors.
Weak incumbent: Outside of the economy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is still in lousy shape for re-election. His “shared sacrifice” plans for cleaning up the fiscal mess he inherited were never popular, and his approval ratings haven’t really ever climbed out of the mid-40s. President Obama, too, saw his approval ratings sink as the economic disaster he inherited continued to ferment. Pundits were certain that the president was doomed to defeat; indeed, his approval ratings stabilized in the 40s as well.
Malloy is not helped by his aggressive, prickly style, and he has a hard time communicating to the public why his plans are good. Obama also had tremendous difficulty actually articulating his positions and making a case for them to the people. He was too often seen as aloof and out of touch.
Base headaches: Liberals ought to love Malloy. He championed progressive legislation from paid sick days to the repeal of the death penalty to the most comprehensive gun control legislation in the nation. However, his support for school reforms that many liberals are deeply suspicious of, and his bitter fight with state employee unions in 2011, have left much of the traditional Democratic base feeling uneasy about him.
Obama had similar problems. Liberals thought his health care reforms didn’t go far enough, even while conservatives railed against it. Liberals also fumed that he didn’t fight hard enough for their priorities in Congress, and that he had backed out of some significant campaign promises like the planned closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. In the end the base came around, but only because the alternative was so much worse.
The Opposition: Malloy has been blessed with a weak field to run against. The GOP pack is led by Tom Foley, a wealthy businessman who was hit with charges of being a heartless corporate vulture in his unsuccessful 2010 race. The rest of the field so far isn’t particularly well-known or exciting: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and senate Minority Leader John McKinney don’t inspire much passion among Connecticut Republicans.
In 2012, Mitt Romney won the nomination largely by virtue of there being nobody else who was even remotely presentable. Romney, a tepid candidate who had a poor relationship with the party base, was easily pegged as an uncaring aristocrat by a smart Obama campaign.
Why 2014 isn’t 2012 after all
Nobody to run against: President Obama could point to the knuckle-dragging social policies and ruinous austerity plans of Republicans, and dangle the very real threat of the GOP controlling the House and the presidency. Gov. Malloy’s Democrats, on the other hand, are in no danger of losing the General Assembly, but are an easy target for voter ire.
Style and substance: When he’s firing on all cylinders, President Obama can bring a crowd to its feet. Gov. Malloy . . . can’t. That said, Malloy is a lot more hands-on than Obama, and he seems to have endless reserves of energy for campaigning — something Obama never seemed to love.
Moderate Republicans: Connecticut Republicans aren’t likely to get bogged down in ruinous social ultraconservatism in order to win the base, and therefore fewer voters will be turned off by them. The national brand could still end up being a hindrance for them, though, as it has been since the Bush era.
The Malloy camp would like nothing better than a race which turns out like 2012 for the incumbent, and it may happen. The weakness of the GOP field is Malloy’s biggest strength, as it was for Obama. The reliably Democratic tilt of the electorate, plus the absence of a GOP wave like in 2010, ought to give Malloy a strong shot at a second term — if he can keep from alienating anyone else, that is.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.