Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy crisscrossed the state Monday, honing themes they intend to emphasize today during a final debate in their acrimonious campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

After attacking Lamont with a television commercial that set off an exchange of negative ads, Malloy suddenly expressed indifference to the charges and counter charges of the past week.

“Listen, I want to talk about issues,” Malloy said. “I’d rather talk about policy differences between Ned and myself.”

Lamont, who says the negative ads disrupted the flow of his campaign advertising, said he will talk today about the cable television company he founded 25 years ago, a credential that shows him as a Democrat who understands entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“I’m certainly going to talk about my company, which I am proud of, how we started it, hundreds of people working for the company over the years–employees and contractors–taking good care of people,” Lamont said. “I can’t counter every single attack, but I figure I can at least say who I am and what we do and why I am proud of it.”

The debate in the Rocky Hill studios of WFSB, Channel 3 will be simulcast at 3 p.m. on Channel 3 and WNPR radio. It will be repeated at 7 p.m. on WFSB’s digital channel, Eyewitness Now, and at 8 p.m. on CPTV and WNPR.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy and his running-mate, Nancy Wyman, speak to supporters in Hartford (Mark Pazniokas

The negative ads began with Malloy challenging Lamont’s business acumen, saying that the company lost 70 percent of its employees. Malloy denied the spot was an attack ad, saying it just contrasted his record as mayor of Stamford with Lamont’s business background.

Lamont said most of the job losses occurred when he sold off a subsidiary that provides cable service to private residential communities.

In a year when most polling shows a voter appetite for “outsiders,” Malloy and his running mate, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, are emphasizing their experience and selling themselves as a team ready to lead.

“What people in Connecticut are yearning for is good, practiced leadership,” Malloy told campaign workers in Hartford. “We’re going to provide that.”

Malloy left office last fall after 14 years as mayor of Stamford, the lower Fairfield County city that has capitalized on its proximity to New York to become a financial services center. Wyman has been the state comptroller for 16 years.

“Good, practiced leadership” is a phrase the audience can expect to hear from Malloy, mixed with suggestions that Lamont’s background as a businessman is no match for Malloy’s resume.

“This stuff is not about the size of your bank account, it’s about the deposits you’ve made in working with the people, of taking on issues, of improving cities, of working on the educational achievement gap that exists in our state, in building housing, in building infrastructure,” Malloy said. “Nancy and I have that kind of talent, that kind of experience, that kind of desire.”

He repeated campaign promises that likely will impossible to keep in the midst of a fiscal crisis, guaranteeing that he would keep open every nursing home in Connecticut and end the state’s reliance on the property tax.

“And most of all, the people of Connecticut want to be told the truth about their state. We’re capable of settling any problem, of handling any challenge, but we need a state government that is going to speak in honest terms, talk about the deficits we’re currently in and those that are projected,” Malloy said. “And they want a plan on how we’re going to get out of that, and we’re talking about that, Nancy and I, day after day, hour after hour.”

In fact, no candidate for governor has outlined a detailed plan to balance the budget and close a projected deficit of more than $3 billion that will greet the next governor on inauguration day in January.

Lamont addressed the Connecticut Education Association, the major teacher’s union that has endorsed him, at noon, then campaigned at a bio-fuels startup company in Groton.

At Constitution Biofuels, Lamont proposed allowing the unemployed to collect benefits as they work to launch a private business. Doug and Renee Dickey founded the company after Doug was laid off from Pfizer.

Organizing a new company does not meet the definition of “actively seeking employment,” so the decision to become an entrepreneur cost Dickey about $500 in weekly unemployment benefits.

The company collects vegetable oil used by restaurants and will refine it for use as a diesel fuel. Lamont said small companies like Constitution are the path to job creation, not tax incentives to lure big companies across state lines.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont poses with workers at a bio-fuel startup (Mark Pazniokas)

“The idea that you throw tax incentives at big businesses didn’t work. Stamford lost jobs at the end of the day, and Connecticut lost jobs at the end of the day,” Lamont said. “So, you can have that strategy for the next 20 years, or you can go with a different strategy. That s why I’m at Constitution Biofuels – small company, start up company, entrepreneurial company.”

In an ad, Lamont says Malloy talks about jobs created when he was mayor, ignoring the net job losses as the economy soured in Stamford and throughout Connecticut.

“What’s a job creation strategy that’s worked? I’d make the case that the Stamford model and the Connecticut model have not worked,” Lamont said.

Lamont said he regrets the tone of the campaign, fearing it may turn off voters. Until last week, his ads featured an endorsement by Ted Kennedy Jr. and his views on education.

“If something false comes up, I’ll challenge it and I’ll challenge it hard. Where was I two weeks ago? I had Kennedy and I had education on TV. I had just read a piece by [The Mirror] saying both campaigns were going to keep this thing positive, you know,” Lamont said. “Maybe I’m a little naïve.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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