Doug Hardy Photo

SOUTHINGTON — With their keynote speaker unable to leave the Beltway because of the looming government shutdown, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addressed the Democrats’ largest fundraiser of the year and described House Republicans in Washington as the “barbarians at the wall.”

—More photos

Addressing the ongoing fight over the Affordable Care Act in Washington, Malloy said the Republicans were making a “gigantic” mistake.

“What they want to do is end Obamacare before it is the proven success that it is going to be,” Malloy said. “Having Americans with health insurance is something we all believe in, we all want, and every member of Congress has, and every United States citizen should have. This is a fight worth fighting, a fight worth winning. We have to stand up to this crowd. They are the barbarians at the wall.”

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois, the scheduled keynote speaker, was absent from this year’s Jefferson Jackson Bailey dinner at the Aqua Turf along with Connecticut’s House delegation. But their absence — and the business to which they were attending in Washington — may have energized the party’s base in Connecticut even more. They blamed House Republicans for making a government shutdown inevitable by moving to pass a bill that funds government for three months and delays Obamacare for a year.

Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, said that she was disappointed things didn’t work out as planned.

U.S. Reps. John B. Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes, and Elizabeth Esty all appeared in short videos that were filmed earlier in the day in Washington.

“It’s unfortunate that Republicans are holding up our government and working against the American people,” DiNardo said.

The fundraiser brought in more than $210,000 for the party, which in May had fallen behind the Republican Party in fundraising — a rare occurrence in a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The theme of the evening was that the Democratic Party can’t rest on its “laurels.” At the moment, Democrats hold all six constitutional offices and all seven Congressional seats.

Cards on the table read “Count Me In” and it asked members to give their name, address, and to commit to participate in making phone calls, knocking on doors, raise $20, write a letter to the editor, or host a house party. The cards were collected and used to help build the volunteer database called Vote Builder. It’s the same database used by the Obama administration in 2012 and it helps the party coordinate volunteer activities at a local level from a central location.

Early polling shows Malloy will have a tough race next year if he decides to run for re-election, but he opened his remarks about the Congressional delegation by mentioning that Esty will have a tough fight. He asked those in the room to remember that and help out with her campaign. 

It’s likely Malloy, who was three points behind his 2010 Republican opponent in a June Quinnipiac University poll, will need the most help.

The governor thanked DiNardo and Democratic Party Executive Director Jonathan Harris for “re-creating” the Democratic Party’s apparatus.

“We’re going to go out and win some really interesting races over the next couple of years, if you know what I mean,” he added.

It was the closest he came to hinting that he was running for re-election.

He touted what he believes are some of the greatest accomplishments of his administration and the Democratic Party over the past two years and nine months. He talked about the Earned Income Tax Credit, paid sick days, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, transgender rights, and a future increase in the minimum wage.

“Here’s one for you. For all of our history we had no Sunday liquor sales. We have them now,” Malloy said to loud cheers.

As far as labor is concerned, Malloy said “we’re not going to have a Wisconsin moment.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was lauded as a conservative hero when he took on his state’s labor unions in 2010-11. When he was headlining the Connecticut Republicans’ largest annual fundraiser in May, Walker reminded them that it’s possible to turn a blue state red. Malloy and Democrats are hoping to prove him wrong.

“I’m proud that our state went down a different road,” Malloy said, acknowledging what was a tough battle in 2011 with the public employee unions.