Malloy road-tests a stump speech for 2014

The soft opening of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s unannounced re-election campaign is under way. Over the late summer and fall, Malloy has honed the elements of a 2014 stump speech, road-testing themes and images calculated to create a quickening sense of progress after decades of stagnation.

Unable to credibly claim the economy is fixed and the state’s fiscal woes are solved, Malloy’s message is that the state is winning small victories on many fronts, positioning the Connecticut economy to grow on a foundation of smart investments in education, technology, infrastructure and commerce. More than anything, he is trying to create a sense of momentum.

“I want people to understand this is not about any one thing. Or one bullet that is going to cure everything, or one pill, I should say, that it is going to cure everything,” Malloy told a business audience Wednesday during a MetroHartford Alliance breakfast. “This is about long-term hard work, day in and day out, that stays the course.”

In the first-term Democratic governor’s recent speeches, echoes can be heard of the broad themes that President Obama successfully used in 2012 to make a case for his second term, despite stubbornly high unemployment and a tepid economic recovery, the same conditions confronting Malloy.

Like Obama, Malloy is asking for more time to overcome fiscal challenges left by a Republican predecessor, rattling off statistics that point to progress and ignoring those that do not. And like the president, the governor acknowledges the electorate’s fears and frustrations about the pace of recovery.

“Listen, I don’t have any doubt that we are making progress in the state of Connecticut,” Malloy said. “I have doubt that people share that feeling — I understand that.”

Connecticut has regained about half the 120,000 jobs lost during the 2008 recession, and Malloy says the private sector has added 41,000 jobs since he took office in January 2011 as the first Democratic governor in 20 years. (The state Department of Labor places the net jobs gain at just 33,100, since the public sector has lost jobs.)

“Is that enough? Absolutely not. But given our track record in the state of Connecticut over a long period of time, we have come a long way,” he said. “And what’s most important is that we have laid the tracks for success in the future, on a long-term basis.”

Malloy points to Department of Labor statistics that buttress his case for an economic recovery: On average, about 1,100 new jobs were added to the state’s economy every month through the end of October, with the November numbers expected this week.

But he ignores the “worrying signs” noted this week by the University of Connecticut economist Steven P. Lanza: All the third-quarter growth this year came in July, with losses in August and September. And much of the growth came in low-wage jobs.

Malloy doesn’t mention a report issued in June by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that concluded Connecticut’s gross domestic product shrank by one-tenth of a percentage point in 2012. The state was the only one whose economy shrank in 2012, a made-to-order talking point for Republicans.

Instead, he talks about the new relationship he’s helped establish with industry. How he’s convinced UConn and the Board of Regents that oversees the state universities and community and technical colleges to think of themselves as economic engines, sources of necessary skills and talent for the workplace.

“We can’t get this wrong,” he told the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce last week. “We are blessed with a high quality of life. This is a place to grow again.”

Malloy, 58, who was elected with 49.5 percent of the vote and never has scored about 50 percent in key polling measures such as job approval and those favoring his re-election, ignores a potential Republican field that includes his 2010 opponent, Tom Foley, and the Senate minority leader, John P. McKinney.

To the extent he is running against any Republican, Malloy plays off his two immediate predecessors, M. Jodi Rell and John G. Rowland, who governed for 16 of the 22 years when Connecticut was one of two states with no net job growth, the other being Michigan. He uses the past as a baseline, a point of comparison to find statistical signs of progress today.

“We have needed to reposition ourselves for two decades,” Malloy said Wednesday. He added, “This has to be seen as an overall vision about how you get a state going that has been unwilling to get going for so long. I don’t have any doubt the efforts we’re making will pay dividends and are paying dividends.”

Malloy mentions trade trips to China to promote the state’s aerospace industry and its bioscience initiatives on the Farmington campus of the University of Connecticut Health Center.

One of the contrasts he makes with Rell and Rowland is the pace and level of investments made by the Department of Economic and Community Development under his commissioner, Catherine Smith.

He soft pedals the big investments his administration has made in major corporations, such as the $71 million package of grants and loans that enticed Cigna to expand here and declare its Bloomfield campus as its national headquarters. Republicans have indicated they intended to make “corporate welfare” an issue next year.

On Wednesday, Malloy emphasized the Small Business Express Program, which helps small employers grow by providing cheap capital or grants. He said it invested in 957 small companies in the past two years, compared with 119 companies of any size assisted by the state in the eight years before he took office.

He repeated his call for business executives to make suggestions about state regulations that should be abandoned. Last week, he specified that he was looking for feedback on regulations more than 4 years old, which prompted scoffing that he was exempting his own administration.

On Wednesday at the Downtown Marriott, Malloy broadened the invitation, telling his audience that all regulations were fair game.

“I am earnest in my desire to get government off your back,” Malloy said.

On his way out the door, he stopped to take questions from reporters, declining to say when he will formally begin his re-election. He remained on message, saying he understands why voters might not yet be as bullish on the future as their governor.

“The recovery has been slower than people would otherwise expect,” Malloy said. “But as I frequently say, I didn’t create the problem. I got hired to straighten it out, and the only way to straighten it out is on a multi-front basis. It involves long-term investment and short-term term investment.”

Malloy suggested it was a matter of looking at the state the right way. That’s ultimately what campaigns are about, framing a narrative for voters.

“When you put the whole thing together and understand the progress we’re making in a relatively short period of time, then you start to feel better,” Malloy said. “Listen, you create 41,000 private sector jobs, but if you didn’t get one of those that’s not something you’re going to celebrate. I understand that.”

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