Charlotte, N.C. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy started the day on CNN, swung by the North Carolina delegation, caught up with his home state Connecticut delegates for a group photo, then sped off to do battle on talk radio.
All that was a warm up for his address to the Democratic National Convention at 7 p.m. Wednesday, an early time that marked him as a second-tier political figure at the convention, but still only one of eight governors given speaking slots.
“We need to fight for our children, fight for our senior citizens, fight for women’s rights, fight for the middle class and fight for our country’s future,” Malloy told the convention. “That’s why we need to fight for Barack Obama.”
Malloy, 57, a first-term governor struggling at home with a 43 percent approval rating after raising taxes, is popular in Charlotte as a promoter of President Obama, a task he says comes with no hidden personal agenda.
“I have the ambition to be the best governor of Connecticut I can be. That’s it. That’s it,” Malloy told The Mirror. “I support the president. I’m going to do everything I can to get the president elected. I’ve been asked to do a few things. I am doing those things.”
The national spotlight is a beguiling place for governors, especially those trying to raise their profile for 2016, when Democrats will either be marking the end of Obama’s second term or trying to dislodge Mitt Romney from the White House.
It is not without risk, as his friend Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland can attest.
O’Malley, 62, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and a potential presidential candidate, began his week in Charlotte explaining why he said Sunday on CBS and CNN political shows that the nation is not better off than it was four years ago.
It was a gaffe pounced on by Republicans, and it forced O’Malley to spend two days on damage control in follow-up interviews and on Twitter.
Early Monday, Malloy was asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” if the nation was better off.
His quick answer: “Hell, yeah.”
Malloy defended O’Malley, who came to Connecticut at Malloy’s invitation to headline the state party’s annual fundraiser, the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner. O’Malley had a prime speaking slot Tuesday night.
“In Martin’s case, he has been one of the pre-eminent stand-ins for the president, and he is going to continue to be,” Malloy said. “He got a prime-time slot last night. He gave a great speech. Would he like to have that answer back and say like I did yesterday, ‘Hell, yeah’? I think he would. But I was forewarned.”
The governor’s relentless networking, a habit established during his 14-year tenure as mayor of Stamford, serves many purposes, especially when it comes to seeking help in Washington. He is a frequent flyer on the D.C. shuttle, and he quickly pushed for a leadership role in the Democratic Governors Association.
“Relationships matter. That’s one of the reasons I go to Washington,” Malloy said. “That’s one of the reasons I participate in organizations that put me in contact with secretaries and deputy secretaries in the administration.”
The retirement of Sen. Chris Dodd and the impending retirement of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman cost the state’s congressional delegation two national political figures, each with more than two decades of seniority.
“You lose that kind of seniority in 24 months, it sets your state back,” Malloy said. “You have to make it up in work.”
Malloy has worked to convince Washington that Connecticut is a good place to invest federal money.
He green-lighted a controversial Hartford to New Britain busway that is something of a demonstration project for federal transportation officials. Construction is well under way.
And he has courted Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.
“We got a $107 million grant for our health exchange. I visited with the secretary four different times since I’ve been elected governor, OK? That’s what it’s about, having people understand that if they are going to send money to your state, you’re going to get it spent in a timely fashion.
“They understand, we’re moving forward.”
Connecticut voters don’t necessarily agree. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, the state was split on his performance during the first 19 months of the governor’s term: 43 percent approve; 44 percent disapprove. The survey is evidence that Malloy still has work to do on his own message.
But from his first months as governor, Malloy made a mark on the national cable television networks, where his bluntness and sly, teasing humor make for good television — especially when directed at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was cutting taxes and services, while Malloy did the opposite.
Malloy had pre-dawn wake-up calls Tuesday and Wednesday, each dictated by television appearances: first on “Morning Joe,” then on CNN with Soledad O’Brien.
“How is that battle you have with Chris Christie going?” Scarbough asked him Tuesday, barely concealing a smile.
“You’re baiting me,” Malloy said.
“I’m not baiting you. You’re the one who went after … Chris Christie by talking about the speech,” Scarbough said, a reference to Christie’s prime-time speech during the GOP convention, which had surprisingly little do with Mitt Romney.
“Me and everybody else. Let’s be honest. Every one of these speeches was about whoever was giving the speech,” Malloy said.
He quickly launched into Democratic talking points, speaking like a salesman trying to close the deal before the customer closed the door.
“We have a great candidate and a great story to tell. We’re in a great place. We were bleeding 700,000 jobs a month when this president became president. We’ve created over 4 million jobs since he became president. We’ve actually increased manufacturing jobs for the first time since the 1990s. These things are happening.”
That was his same pitch an hour later before the Wyoming delegation — and again when he visited delegates from New Jersey, who later said they loved his gibes at Christie’s speech and girth.
O’Malley, meanwhile, spoke to delegates from Iowa, home of the caucuses that give presidential contenders an early test.
Malloy has made sure to spend time with the home state delegates, who are staying at a DoubleTree hotel by the airport. Malloy is assigned a downtown hotel, but he hosted a cocktail party Monday night at the DoubleTree and made an appearance Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
It’s a quick pace.
“I think I’m doing conservative talk radio about 10 times this afternoon. I’ve been asked to take them on,” he said late Wednesday morning. “And then at some point I have to go back, get freshened up and maybe even take a few cough drops and get my voice back.”
His wife, Cathy, and two of his three sons, Ben and Sam, trailed him as he made his radio rounds, not all of which were conservative. He was interviewed on Out, a gay-oriented show on satellite radio, and the NPR affiliate, WNYC.
Before he left his family for the podium, the Malloys hugged and the governor smiled as the first lady whispered some last-minute advice: “Don’t yell.”