CTNJ file photo
Jonathan Pelto (CTNJ file photo)

Democrat Jonathan Pelto said Thursday he will make his candidacy official and is committed to running for governor this year as a third-party candidate and liberal alternative to incumbent Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“As a third-party candidate for governor, I recognize that the campaign system is rigged to make being elected as difficult as possible, but I see a clear path forward and I am indeed running to win,” Pelto said in a press release.

The former state representative and longtime critic of Malloy has been exploring a third-party run and said he would not officially enter the race unless he was confident he could win and not just peel off enough of Malloy’s support to hand the election to a Republican candidate.

If he collects the necessary 7,500 signatures, Pelto will appear on the ballot under the Education and Democracy Party. He will be competing with Malloy and a Republican candidate. Tom Foley, who lost to Malloy by only 6,404 votes in 2010, won the Republican nomination at the party’s convention but Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton both won enough support to wage a primary challenge.

Last week, Pelto began collecting signatures and announced he had chosen Hartford teacher Ebony Murphy as his running mate for lieutenant governor. He said Thursday he has already enlisted the help of more than 100 volunteers who have collected about 2,200 signatures. He said he was confident they would collect the necessary signatures by Aug. 6.

Pelto’s appearance on the ballot would complicate the political strategy of the Connecticut Democratic Party and Malloy’s re-election campaign, who have so far declined to answer criticisms lodged by the former state representative and have focused their efforts on attacking Republican candidates.

But given Malloy’s narrow 2010 victory over Foley and public polling, which has consistently suggested the two rivals are still essentially tied, a third candidate may become difficult to ignore.

In the Thursday statement, Pelto said he believes he can be a credible candidate and focused on drawing voter attention to issues like tax reform, education funding, and teacher support. He also criticized Malloy’s economic development policies as “corporate welfare.”

“I said I would only run for governor if I could be a credible candidate. Having spent the last several weeks talking with voters across the political spectrum and with people willing to volunteer to help with our campaign, I am confident that we can utilize this opportunity to focus the electorate’s attention on a number of important issues,” he said.

Last week, Pelto signaled that he would accelerate his exploratory process so he can be considered for an endorsement by the state’s labor unions and advocacy groups. The change was prompted by last week’s preliminary endorsement of Malloy by the American Federation of Teacher’s Connecticut Legislative and Political Action Committee.

Since then, other labor organizations have signaled they plan to support Malloy in this year’s election. On Wednesday, United Auto Workers Region 9A released a statement endorsing the governor.

“We need a governor who will continue to stand up for working class families — that’s Dan Malloy. I have seen my friends, neighbors and colleagues suffer when factories have closed in the past, but Dan Malloy has worked to make sure that Connecticut is growing jobs,” Shawn Tripp, president of UAW Local 405, said in a statement.