DANBURY — Fundraising was a big hurdle for Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton when he was the Republican Party’s lieutenant governor nominee in 2010, but in announcing his bid for governor on Wednesday, Boughton expressed optimism.
“We raised more money in four weeks than we did in the entire 2010 campaign cycle,” Boughton said from a podium at the Holiday Inn in Danbury.
The seven-term mayor said most of the money was raised in December because “we couldn’t go out and ask people to write two checks: one for the mayor’s race and one for the governor’s race. That was a challenge for us.”
Boughton will transition his exploratory campaign over to a campaign committee today.
Boughton, who has been exploring since August, joins an increasingly crowded field of Republican candidates, including state Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Joe Visconti of West Hartford, Gordon Ward of Manchester, state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, and Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican nominee.
The window to enter the race may be closing soon, but Boughton jokingly encouraged more Republicans to get in so that the Democratic Party has to spend more money on opposition research.
“They can divide up their resources and we can help them spend their money a lot quicker,” Boughton said.
It’s not clear how much money Boughton has raised over the past few months because the filing isn’t due until Friday and he didn’t want to estimate. But he said he expects to qualify for public financing by raising the $250,000 in small donations he needs before the Republican nominating convention in May. He already reported having raised about $14,500 from August through September.
“It is a system that will break your heart in a lot of ways,” Boughton said. “I think everybody will at some point cross the $100,000 threshold, but it’s getting the last 500 donors that’s really difficult.”
He said it’s an “interesting exercise in how many people you can find that are willing to write you a check.”
Democratic Party spokesman James Hallinan attended Boughton’s announcement. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has not announced his re-election bid yet.
Hallinan said the Democratic Party is not nervous about Boughton’s entrance into the race.
“What we’re doing is making sure we’re highlighting the contrast between Governor Malloy working hard and adding 40,000 private jobs and contrasting that with Mayor Mark Boughton,” Hallinan said. “They’re quick to criticize, but aren’t putting any plans forward.”
Boughton said the endless emails and rants about the Republicans coming from the Democratic Party are “juvenile” and “spastic.”
“They are like frothing at the mouth,” Boughton said. “They are losing their minds. I think they should just chill out. Let’s let the Republicans pick who the nominee ought to be.”
Boughton pointed to a video tracker hired by the Democratic Party, who he said has been following him around the past few months, as proof that the party is concerned. He said there’s reason for them to be concerned. They have an incumbent governor whose poll numbers are below 40 percent.
In November, Boughton won re-election to a seventh term with more than 70 percent of the vote. But that’s in Danbury. Running for statewide office requires a good deal of name recognition. Boughton believes he’ll get that as soon as he qualifies for the first $1.25 million in public funds for the primary.
Boughton did spend some time in the national spotlight in 2005, when Time magazine published a story on the city’s efforts to regulate volleyball games in Danbury.
According to the Valley Independent Sentinel, residents in Danbury complained to the city about large scale backyard volleyball matches — events organized by the city’s Ecuadoran population.
The games, Danbury officials and residents complained, were highly organized, with tickets being sold for admission. The city responded by passing a “repetitive outdoor group activities” law, which allowed the city to issue warnings or levy fines against offenders.
Local Hispanic and civil rights advocates complained, saying the city was blowing the issue out of proportion.
The volleyball issue — coupled with a controversial 2005 request by Boughton to then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell to deputize troopers as immigration agents — kicked off four years of tension between City Hall and Danbury’s immigrant population.
In August when he announced his exploratory bid, Boughton downplayed his rocky relationship with the immigrant community, saying that he couldn’t get elected by 75 percent of the vote in the last election if he didn’t have a positive relationship with the immigrants who make up 25 percent of the electorate in Danbury.
How is 2014 different than 2010?
Boughton said the voters of the state are looking at this race a little differently than they did in 2010.
“I think the person who wins this race is going to have to paint a picture and a vision of this state, of what it can be,” Boughton said. As far as the negative politics go and trying to tear the other candidates down, Boughton said he doesn’t believe the voters are going to be as responsive to that this time around.
He described himself as a “blue-collar Republican.”
It’s a description that differentiates him from at last two of his Republican opponents.
“They know I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Boughton said of the voters.
Boughton, who taught high school for 14 years, said over the past three years it’s gotten tougher to earn a living in the state of Connecticut because of Malloy’s fiscal and economic policies. He was referring to the millions of dollars the state has given to companies to stay in Connecticut. Boughton said the strategy only works if the state is able to convince a company to leave another state and come to Connecticut.
If this economy is going to work the state will have to put an approach in place that says “we’re a pro-business environment and support small and medium-sized businesses,” he said.
At an unrelated event Wednesday, Malloy, who declined to talk about when he planned to announce his re-election bid, said that when it comes to the economy the “reality is we’re not where we want to be.”
“On the other hand we know that we’ve created almost 42,000 private sector jobs, that government has actually gotten smaller during that period of time,” Malloy said. “That we’ve gone from a $3.67 billion deficit to a budget that projects a surplus. That’s not a bad few years work. I didn’t drive this state into the ditch.”