Christine Stuart file photo

While his major party opponents are busy playing host to high-profile surrogates this week, unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Joe Visconti is hoping to make a “quantum leap” in voter support with his first debate appearance.

Visconti, a conservative former West Hartford town councilman, petitioned his way onto this year’s gubernatorial ballot alongside Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley.

As Malloy and Foley have pummeled each other through four televised debates, Visconti has been on the sidelines, barred by participation thresholds set by debate organizers. But that changes Thursday during a one-hour debate at New London’s Garde Arts Center. The debate, hosted by The Day, Connecticut Public Television, and WNPR, will include all three candidates.

“For me, I’ve been blocked out of four debates, so I have to catch up,” Visconti said during a phone interview Monday.  “But I’m a fast talker.”

Malloy and Foley are deadlocked at 43 percent of the vote, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week. The poll found Visconti’s support at 9 percent, with supporters drawn from both Foley and Malloy. Another poll released last week, conducted by Public Policy Polling, also put Visconti at 9 percent.

That’s likely to change, according to Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, who said Visconti’s support may drop as the November election draws closer.

“One thing to keep an eye on is the Visconti voters. Typically, what happens with third-party candidates, is their vote share goes down the closer you get to an election,” Schwartz told reporters last week.

But Visconti said he is hoping that the exposure of Thursday’s debate will have the opposite effect and help propel him closer to 20 percent this week.

“We need to make a jump — a quantum leap this week,” he said.

Visconti said he is hoping to see a similar benefit from a debate scheduled for next week. At the moment, that debate appears likely to include just Malloy and Visconti. Foley’s campaign has not agreed on terms with NBC Connecticut, the network organizing the event.

During Thursday’s debate, Visconti said he is hoping to force a conversation on issues that Malloy and Foley would prefer to not talk about, specifically the $1.278 billion budget deficit the state is projected to be facing in the next fiscal year.

“Malloy thinks we’ve got a surplus and Foley doesn’t want to say where he wants to cut,” he said.

Visconti said he will seek to avoid the contentious tone and personal attacks that have marked the past two debates between his major party rivals.

“I have 16 minutes only on this debate. I don’t want to be spending it doing what I saw them do [in previous debates]. If I see that coming I’ll shut that down, get a little loud if I have to,” he said.

The debate featuring all three candidates will help draw stark contrasts, he said. Visconti said Malloy’s policies have been tried and failed. Meanwhile, he said Foley will “look like an empty suit with no ideas once I’m on stage.”

Last week, Schwartz said it was likely that Visconti’s support is fleeting and driven by voters’ malaise with both major party candidates.

“Voters don’t really know Visconti, yet he’s getting 9 percent of the vote. That seems like it’s an expression of the dissatisfaction with the candidates, with Malloy and with Foley,” Schwartz said.

Visconti disagreed. He said his team of volunteers have spread thousands of palm cards at festivals, fairs, and football games over the last two weeks.

“We keep going up in polls with no money. They like to say it’s just voter anger. No, it’s our hard work on the street that we’re not getting credit for,” he said.