Lamont and Malloy: The battle is joined

The battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination was joined Tuesday, with Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy casting themselves as the outsider and the insider.

As Malloy rolled out endorsements, the fruits of retail politics that has taken him to more than 100 Democratic town committees over the past year, Lamont reprised a theme from his 2006 run for the U.S. Senate.

“We stood up to the political establishment,” Lamont said as he formally announced his race for governor.  “We stood up to the political wisdom and we made a difference. I’m here to ask you, Connecticut, to stand up again.”

lamont, ned, 02-16-10

Ned Lamont formally announces for governor

He energized Democratic primary voters in 2006 with a call to end the war in Iraq; the question now is whether Lamont can rally the base in 2010 with a call to “expand the economic pie.”

His announcement speech at the Old State House in Hartford was an appeal to primary voters and beyond, not to the delegates to a Democratic nominating convention in May, where Malloy is expected to have the edge.

Lamont’s campaign manager, Joe Abbey, refused to concede the convention to Malloy. Other supporters said, however, that obviously was the case.

“We might not be competitive at the convention, but it’s not about the convention,” said Nick Paindiris of Glastonbury, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee. “It’s about the primary.”

Malloy has won over some Lamont supporters from four years ago, including Democratic Town Chairman John McNamara of New Britain.

“We need a candidate who can inspire rank and file Democrats,” said McNamara, who is virtually guaranteed to be a convention delegation. “We need a candidate who can attract broad-based support from independents and even Republicans.”

Lamont pushed a message Tuesday that he believes will appeal to primary voters and independents who he says will be shopping in November for a governor who can reverse 20 years of job losses.

“Maybe just maybe, Connecticut needs a governor, somebody who started a business and created more than a few jobs, here in a state that is dead last in the country in starting up businesses and creating jobs,” Lamont said.

In 2006, Lamont inherited a political movement that was waiting for a candidate willing to challenge U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman over his support for the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

It was an odd fit in some ways. Lamont is a Greenwich businessman, the founded of a cable-television company and the great-grandson of J.P. Morgan’s banking partner. He won the Democratic primary, but failed to broaden his appeal in the general election.

His task this year will be to emphasize his business credentials without turning off key constituencies in any Democratic primary, including organizer labor and liberals.

“I’ve been a CEO all my life,” Lamont said, responding to a question about which was a better fit, governor or Senate. “I’ve run something. I want to be governor of the state of Connecticut.”

Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years, won the Democratic convention endorsement four years ago, then lost a close primary to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.

Lamont and Malloy are competing for the nomination with Mary Glassman, the first selectwoman of Simsbury and the woman Malloy chose as his running mate in 2006; and Rudy Marconi, the first selectman of Ridgefield; and Juan Figueroa, the president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.

But Malloy and Lamont have ignored the rest of the field, throwing jabs at each other.

On Monday, Malloy staged a press conference with east-of-the-river supporters, ensuring that his endorsements would get play in the news cycle before Lamont’s announcement.

Lamont’s campaign manager issued a sharp statement, dismissing them as insiders. Lamont seemed to regret the exchange.

“There have been campaign managers who have been taking potshots at us. And I don’t want my guys taking potshots back,” Lamont said. “Nobody needs that.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, the top strategist for Malloy, said his campaign responded to incoming fire.

“We’ll never take any incoming fire and not respond,” he said.

He said expect Malloy to continue to draw contrasts with Lamont.

“Political campaigns are a contact sport,” said Occhiogrosso, who advised Lieberman during the primary campaign four years ago. “This is not 2006 in a bunch of different ways. The issues are different. Ned’s opponent is different. The landscape is different.”

After his speech Tuesday, Lamont was asked why he is a better candidate than Malloy.

“I think you want an outsider to come in, who’s obviously shown he is not afraid to take on the status quo, not afraid to shake things up,” Lamont said. “I think you want somebody who is a proven job creator, who knows how to start businesses. That’s what you need here in Connecticut, somebody who can talk to businesses, somebody who can expand that economic pie and get Connecticut growing again. That’s what I’m about.”

Lamont is the only Democrat not seeking public financing under the state’s Citizens’ Election Program, which provides $1.25 million for a primary and $3 million for a general election to qualifying gubernatorial candidates who promise to abide by spending limits.

Malloy has attacked the independently wealthy Lamont, who contributed $17 million to his Senate campaign, for not abiding by spending limits.

Lamont’s reply: the leading Republican candidate, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, already is the on the air and intends to exceed the limits.

“I’m not taking any special interest money. I’m a believer in clean campaigns,” Lamont said. “But I’m not going to go into battle with one arm tied behind my back.”

Some Democrats said they see Lamont’s money as a plus, not a negative, in a general election race.

“He’d make a great governor and, equally important, he can win the primary and be elected in November,” said Paindiris, the state central committee member. “I’m getting old. I want a winner.”

No Democrat has won a gubernatorial election in Connecticut since William A. O’Neill in 1986.