Campaigning takes a back seat to fundraising as candidates strive for pre-convention credibility

As his gubernatorial rivals focus on last-minute fund-raising, Ned Lamont is visiting a Hamden metal finisher today, continuing the low-key rollout of his economic development plan that began with events Tuesday in Hartford and Bridgeport.

The Democratic frontrunner, a wealthy businessman who is expected to pay for most of his run himself, was one of the few candidates who could afford to campaign Tuesday and today, the last two days of the fundraising quarter.

Lamont, Ned, 3-31-10

Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont in Hartford Tuesday (Mark Pazniokas)

Others scrambled to boost their first-quarter financial reports, trying to demonstrate they will have the resources to compete in crowded Democratic and Republican fields for governor.

“That’s the reality,” said Juan Figueroa, another Democratic candidate.

The first-quarter reports will be the last before candidates seek the endorsement of their parties’ nominating conventions in May.

A half-dozen Democrats and seven Republicans are running or exploring a run, though the GOP field shrank by one: Jeffrey Wright, the Republican mayor of Newington, dropped out of the race for governor and declared his candidacy for state treasurer.

In the Democratic race, Lamont is trailed by Dannel P. Malloy, the former Stamford mayor. Malloy had a fund-raiser in New Britain on Tuesday, as well as an appearance before the Enfield Democratic town committee, and expects to be making fundraising calls today.

Malloy, who narrowly lost a primary for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006, intends to seek public financing under the Citizens Election Program, as do three Democrats with exploratory committees, Figueroa, Mary Glassman and Rudy Marconi. Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura is considering forming an exploratory committee.

Tom Foley, a Greenwich businessman who was a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush, is the Republican frontrunner, supported by 30 percent of Republicans in the last Quinnipiac University poll. No other Republican garnered more than 4 percent. He, too, is passing up public financing for his campaign.

Oz Griebel, who is on leave as president of the business group, the MetroHartford Alliance, as he runs for the GOP nomination, is among the second-tier candidates who hope to impress convention delegates with a decent fundraising performance.

“I would say it’s going pretty well. Obviously, we’re late to the game getting in,” Ashley Maagero, his campaign manager, said Tuesday. “I think there will be some folks on the [donor] list that will catch some attention.”

Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele, a Republican candidate who recently joined Foley as the only gubernatorial candidates airing television commercials, took a break from fundraising and campaigning to tour flood-stricken eastern Connecticut.

With Gov. M. Jodi Rell out of state until Tuesday night, Fedele was acting governor.

In the Democratic race, Lamont is the best-known candidate, the result of his antiwar challenge four years ago of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. He spent $17 million of his own money on that effort.

By most assessments, including his own, he trails Malloy among potential convention delegates.

“I remind folks I wasn’t the convention favorite four years ago, and I may not be the convention favorite this time,” Lamont said Tuesday after his campaign stop in Hartford. “But we’ll win the primary and more importantly we’ll beat the Republican frontrunner and be the first Democratic governor in 25 years. I think that’s something a lot of folks on town committees like to hear.”

He said his reception by Democratic town committee members, many of whom will end up as convention delegates, is friendly, but he has work to do.

“I get, ‘Ned, I like the fact that you stood up four years ago, and I think you were right.’ I hear, ‘Some of the other candidates have been to my town committee five times in the last three years, and we haven’t seen you as much as some of the other guys. Please come to visit because we want to get to know you again,’ ” Lamont said.

In his jobs plan, Lamont said his focus will be on making government responsive to small businesses. He promised to improve transportation infrastructure and fight high costs now stifling business growth.

“Connecticut needs to get back on offense,” Lamont said in Hartford, where he met with job-seekers, businessmen and employment counselors.

Malloy, who trailed Lamont 28 percent to 18 percent in the last Quinnipiac poll, was the only Democrat to issue a statement criticizing Lamont’s jobs plan.

“There are a few things I think we need to do that aren’t in Ned’s plan – such as instituting benchmark systems that would help the state identify critical economic needs and ensure that state resources are allocated as efficiently as possible,” Malloy said. “It makes no sense that, to this day and despite repeated attempts by the Auditors of Public Accounts to get this policy changed, Connecticut still refuses to release a list of companies that have received state aid and their respective records on job creation.”