In the gubernatorial primary campaigns, it’s a sudden heat wave

Fifteen days before the primaries, temperatures are rising in the races for the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominations, with the front-runners in both contests accusing their opponents of negative tactics.

The friction started Friday, when Republican Michael C. Fedele and Democrat Dan Malloy launched oddly parallel commercials intended to undermine the business resumes of the two front-runners, Republican Tom Foley and Democrat Ned Lamont.

“I wish Ronald Reagan was still alive, because I think he’d take Mike Fedele out and give him a big spanking,” Foley said over the weekend, standing less than 10 feet away from his opponents, Fedele and Oz Griebel.

Reagan is credited with originating the “11th Commandment,” an oft-broken prohibition against Republicans speaking ill of other Republicans.

In the Democratic race, Lamont’s campaign accused Malloy’s campaign Sunday night of instigating a story posted on the Hartford Courant’s web site about a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Lamont’s  cable-television company in 2002 and settled in 2003.

“Friday, he launches a negative attack ad. Suddenly, two days later a reporter calls us up on a Sunday afternoon with this charge,” said Joe Abbey, Lamon’s campaign manager. “It’s too close to the primary. It’s a little too obvious.”

The terms of the settlement are confidential, but Abbey said, “The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed the charges of racial discrimination against Lamont Digital.”

Malloy said he knew nothing about the lawsuit other than what he read.

“I don’t know anything more about it. People can say whatever they want,” Malloy said. “It’s just another day in the campaign.”

Until Sunday night, most of the heat had come from the GOP contest.

Fedele’s new commercial features elderly factory workers who blame Foley for taking $20 million in management fees as their textile company, the Bibb Company, was failing.

Foley said Fedele will see a backlash.

“I talked with people here,” Foley said Saturday at community center in Avon, where he, Fedele, Griebel stood for 90 minutes, mingling with Republicans. “They are pretty upset, a Republican running an attack ad on a fellow Republican.”

Fedele, whose campaign is supported by $2.5 million in public financing, said he is getting good feedback about the commercial that went on the air Friday morning, hours before Malloy aired a spot tweaking Lamont for his business record and his refusal to debate in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“Everybody loves it,” Fedele said of his commercial. “People are finding it informative. That’s what we are trying to do.”

“The commercial is excellent,” Griebel said. “My only issue is it shouldn’t be paid for with taxpayers’ money.”

Foley said he will air a response ad, possibly today.

On Friday, Malloy aired a commercial that recycled and re-worked a charge that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman made four years ago against Lamont in the U.S. Senate race: Lamont’s company paid him a handsome salary as some employees lost their jobs.

Malloy’s twist was adding a tweak over Lamont’s refusal to debate in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“My opponent refuses to debate so here are the facts,” Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford, says in the ad. “I have a proven record of creating jobs, lowering crime, cleaning up government. And I have a real plan to put people back to work.”

“My opponent doesn’t have that experience. In fact, he reduced his employees by more than 70 percent, while paying himself a huge salary. Don’t you think CEOs behaving that way is what messed up our economy in the first place?”

“Malloy knows that we debunked that four years ago,” Lamont said Sunday. “It’s disappointing. It’s the first attack.”

Lamont’s company did shed jobs, though Lamont says most of those were the result of the company selling off a division that provided cable television to private residential communities.

Abbey says the debate charge is inaccurate, since Lamont has debated Malloy. But Lamont, after debating Malloy once since the race narrowed to a two-man contest, has rejected invitations for televised debates July 27 and Aug. 4.

Four years ago, Lieberman ran a commercial claiming that Lamont collected a salary of more than $500,000, which he contested. Malloy’s ad says that Lamont collected a “huge salary.”

Lamont Digital is a relatively small, privately held company that provides cable television services to 150 college campuses. It was founded by Lamont after he left a job with Cablevision, one of the industry giants. Its finances are not public.

Lamont is currently airing a commercial in which he is endorsed by Ted Kennedy Jr. He said he expected to respond to the Malloy ad, but his campaign manager declined to comment on specifics.

Malloy said he did not consider his ad to be negative or an attack. In the commercial, Malloy is on camera for the entire 30 seconds, first complaining that Lamont refuses to debate.

“He has gone around the state for six months, saying ‘Hire me to run government like a business. I’ve said all along government is not a business,” Malloy said in a telephone interview. “I think the contrast is one voters have the right to decide about.”