Having bitter rivalries with someone isn’t a good thing, unless you’re in politics. Then it’s a way to make money, get your supporters fired up, and raise your national profile, as the last week shows.
I’m currently obsessed with this video game where you can play as various countries at various stages of world history, and one of the things you’re supposed to have is rivals. You get what amounts to extra points for having longtime rivalries, because then you’re encouraged to try and thwart those other countries at everything they do. It’s great fun to try and make them miserable. I imagine that that’s what Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., felt when they decided to come to Connecticut to help Tom Foley try to bump off Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has been a persistent thorn in their sides.
Jindal hasn’t shown up yet, he’s scheduled to be at a fundraiser in October, but Christie made an appearance with Foley in Malloy’s hometown of Stamford on Tuesday. He succinctly summed up Malloy’s first term in “two quick points: lost jobs and higher taxes.”
This isn’t Christie’s first visit to stump for Foley — he swung by a diner in Greenwich in July — and it likely won’t be his last. Christie has been involved in a public feud with Malloy for years, dating back to Malloy’s earliest days in office when the two sparred over Malloy’s tax increases. Christie famously said he’d be “waiting at the border to take Connecticut’s jobs” should Malloy raise taxes, and Malloy fired back.
As for Jindal, Malloy decided he’d had enough of Jindal spouting a line of Republican boilerplate at a supposedly nonpartisan National Governors Association meeting at the White House, and called him on it.
So it’s not surprising, then, that the two of them would be up for coming to Connecticut to stump for Malloy’s opponent. It’s not just free PR for their potential 2016 candidacies, it’s a chance to get a little payback.
A lot of this is pretty great for Tom Foley. He gets two Republicans who will likely run for president in 2016 swinging by the state to raise money and fire up the troops, and he also gets a strong ally in Christie, who is head of the Republican Governors Association. The RGA has already pumped millions into this race. “The RGA’s got a big wallet, and they’re opening it up to us here in Connecticut because they see the opportunity,” said Foley, acknowledging the obvious. Jindal, when he comes, will bring in plenty of money as well.
But having rivals visit — even deep-pocketed rivals — is good for Malloy, as well. There’s a lot of political upside to having opponents with national profiles like Jindal and Christie. For one thing, the Democratic Party faithful deeply dislike both men, though Christie has somewhat more crossover appeal. That lets Malloy raise money off of them; last week, the Connecticut Democratic Party sent an email to supporters about Christie’s visit titled, “Guess who’s coming to town?”
Secondly, rivals give you a foil. They’re someone to react to and needle, as well as someone to debate and contrast yourself with. The same email from the state Democrats had all kinds of statistics about how New Jersey was sinking fast under Christie. In a year when Democrats are having all kinds of problems getting demoralized voters excited, a reminder of what they’re voting against never hurts.
Another problem with visits from national names is that they bring both high expectations and their own baggage with them. Christie was met by pro-Second Amendment protestors who decried his support for gun control legislation in New Jersey, for example, and a lackluster visit from Bill Clinton turned into a disaster for Democrats. Republicans also run the risk of nationalizing the race in a way that they desperately don’t want. If this race is about Connecticut, Foley will do well. If the race is about the general fight between Democrats and Republicans on the national level, though, then Republicans aren’t going to have a prayer.
But those potential issues are pretty minor, compared with the pluses. Rivalries are good; everyone gets publicity and raises some money when rivals come to town. But don’t get too used to it. What we’re seeing here is the ending point for this rivalry, no matter who wins the election. After this, Christie and probably Jindal will be in the 2016 hunt, and Malloy will still be here. So enjoy this rivalry while it lasts.
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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