Race grows tighter, tone turns nastier

Despite calls for civility, Democratic voters can expect a continuing exchange of attacks between Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy through next Tuesday’s primary.

“I’m afraid negative campaigning works,” Lamont said Wednesday night, after questioning Malloy’s ethics in a new mailer. “That’s why politicians do it.”

Lamont was anticipating that a new Quinnipiac University poll would make public Thursday what he has been seeing privately: Malloy is closing on him after airing the campaign’s first attack ads 12 days ago.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow that you find his $2 million of negative ads were more effective than my $5 million of positive ads,” Lamont said. The poll showed Malloy closing to within 5 percentage points.


Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy and his running-mate, Nancy Wyman, sample their namesake sandwich at an East Hartford lunch counter Wednesday. (Mark Pazniokas)

After a mini-rally at Augie & Ray’s, the venerable lunch stand in East Hartford near the giant Pratt & Whitney Aircraft complex, Malloy repeated the case he intends to press against Lamont in the closing days of their fight for the Democratic nomination.

Lamont is rich, entitled and saddled with the ethics of a Wall Street chief executive, Malloy said. They are talking points Malloy employed Tuesday during their final televised debate, and he intends to repeat them until next Tuesday.

“There is a world of difference between Ned Lamont and myself. I grew up in a middle-class family. My mother was a school nurse. My dad sold insurance,” Malloy said. “I don’t have $25 million to throw at the people of the state of Connecticut to try to buy their affection. And, by the way, I don’t think he is going to be successful at it, either.”

To get to $25 million, Malloy added the $17 million Lamont spent on his Senate campaign against Joseph Lieberman in 2006 to the $8 million that Malloy guesses Lamont will spend through the primary.

“He’s got the right to do it,” Malloy said. “This is an amazing situation. He is a wealthy guy who supported campaign finance reform until it applied to him. I think that is an insight to his psyche. He believes he should be able to make the rules.”

Malloy and his running mate, Nancy Wyman, were treated to a sandwich named in their honor: Irish corned beef on kosher rye bread.

After they finished, Malloy said to her, within earshot of a reporter, “If Ned Lamont had a sandwich [named for him] it would be caviar.”

Hungry to win the governor’s office for the first time since 1986, Democrats are fearful that the ads and rhetoric will turn off voters and divide the party.

“It demeans the process in general, and turnout is going to be difficult enough,” said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, a Malloy supporter who was at the Augie & Ray’s rally. “The winner of this race is going to be who can turn out votes.”

Larson said constituents in his hometown of East Hartford want to hear Malloy and Lamont offer solutions to the state’s problems, not attack each other’s character.

“It’s just discouraging,” said Larson, an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1994. “When I walk around and come in here, people will say, ‘Hey, we don’t hear anything about these solutions.’ “

After the debate on Tuesday, Lamont said he hoped that he and Malloy would end the cycle of negative ads. He said, “Let’s end on a positive note.”

But already in the mail was a Lamont flier with the headline: “Dan Malloy’s dirty politics.” It resurrected details of an investigation into how contractors who built Malloy’s home while he was mayor ended up with city contracts.

“This culture of corruption under Malloy even drew the attention of law enforcement,” the flier says. “State authorities eventually launched a criminal corruption investigation into Malloy’s pay-to-play schemes.”

Left unsaid is that Malloy was exonerated of criminal wrongdoing by the investigation.

“He knows I was cleared. He knows there is no truth to it,” Malloy said. “He’s decided he’s got more money than God, and he can say whatever he wants to say.”

Lamont said Malloy was cleared of illegality, but his dealings with the contractors still raise a legitimate question about his judgment.

“That’s what I’m asking,” Lamont said. “I’ve answered it. I don’t think it’s right.”

On Wednesday, the Lamont campaign also released a web video that professed to describe how Malloy used a city vehicle to travel the state as a candidate before leaving office last year. It included debate footage of Malloy proposing to cutback on the state auto fleet to save money.

“Ned isn’t a very good story teller – he always forgets the end,” said Dan Kelly, Malloy’s manager.

Kelly said that Malloy reimbursed the city for the use of the car outside Stamford, but the Lamont campaign said Malloy only paid a fraction of the standard rate.

“Dan clearly views public office as a vehicle for his political ambitions,” said Justine Sessions, Lamont’s communication director. “At a time when the people of Connecticut are rightly nervous about integrity in government, we just can’t afford a politician with this kind of baggage.”

Malloy kicked off the attacks with an unsubstantiated commercial about Lamont’s cable-television business. It suggested he eliminated the jobs of 70 percent of his workforce, while paying himself “a huge salary.”

The reductions occurred as Lamont sold off some of his residential cable systems; he says no one was laid off. As for his salary, it is privately held and his pay is not a public record.

Lamont did disclose earnings of $500,000 during his Senate campaign, but that included all income, including considerable investments. In a second commercial, Malloy highlighted a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by an employee in 2002 and settled privately a year later.

Lamont said he was too slow to respond to Malloy’s attack.

“This type of negative campaigning hurts us all,” Lamont said. “It makes folks cynical about politics and politicians just at a time when you need people to believe their leaders can step up and make a difference. So I think it’s terribly damaging to the body politic, and I was very reluctant.”

After the debate, he was asked why did not unilaterally end the negative attacks, if he was so bothered by them.

“He went up for five days with a non-stop negative, and it has an impact,” Lamont said. “I know.”