Even on a relaxed summer day, Dan Malloy is a candidate who occupies the narrow spaces between confident and cocky, energetic and edgy.
It is a more than a week after he crushed Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for governor, and Malloy is getting antsy. He is ready to go, to work.
“That’s what I do,” Malloy says with a shrug. He laughs and adds, “That’s who I am.”
The college kid who closely trailed the 55-year-old Malloy with a camcorder for the Lamont campaign is going back to Yale in great shape. Malloy lost 13½ pounds.
“I think we outhustled, we outworked, we out-personalized,” Malloy says. “When I walk through an audience, I’m not waving to the audience, I’m trying to make contact.“
This is a part of the campaign that Malloy tolerates, the necessary lull after the primary. Staff needs downtime. So do the voters, who have been bombarded by mail, phone calls and TV commercials.
Malloy pines for Labor Day.
“This is the twilight period of summer,” Malloy said. “There’s just not as much stuff going on. Booking eight to 12 events a day is literally impossible.”
Still, even on this slow day, Malloy was out of his house in Stamford by 7:15 a.m. and on the air by 8:05 a.m. with popular morning hosts, Chaz and AJ, at the Milford studios of the rock station, WPLR-FM.
He will later get a tour of the $2.2 billion reconstruction of the Q Bridge in New Haven, then meet his running mate, Nancy Wyman, for lunch and then a tour of the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford to talk about his $15 million plan to promote tourism. Then he’ll make a couple of stops in New London.
On the air with Chaz and AJ, the banter is light.
“The state is a mess,” Malloy says.
“That’s going to be our new slogan?” he is asked.
“We’re going to do it in Latin,” Malloy replies.
“Everybody is kissing your butt now?”
“I have a lot more friends this week than I did last week,” he says.
He is asked if he thought the race turned nasty.
“Sure, it did,” Malloy says.
One of Lamont’s commercials featured a man peeking from the bushes at Malloy’s home, asking how he could have afforded it on a mayor’s salary.
“You have a nice house, by the way,” cracks one of his hosts.
Malloy acts wounded.
“I could stay home and be abused,” Malloy says.
Malloy moves the conversation onto more productive ground.
“We’ve got to turn the page,” Malloy says, downplaying the exchange of negative ads, which he had started. “This is not a business for people with thin skin.”
He talks a little policy, brings up a campaign talking point about intending to reduce the number of state agencies by one third, though he refuses an invitation to make a no-tax pledge.
Malloy unwisely brings up “GAAP financing,” the idea of changing the accounting rules for the state budget, not the best conversational gambit on a rock station.
“You’re going to lose us now with that stuff,” he is told.
Happily, for Chaz and AJ, Malloy flubs a word.
One of the hosts pounces.
“Did he just say fart?”
The mood is restored.
Later, in a conversation at his Hartford field office in an old industrial building, Malloy says he won the primary with his message, experience and drive.
He has a double-digit lead over Republican Tom Foley in the first post-primary poll, but Malloy says a poll in August is worthless. He is quick to remind that Lamont had a double-digit lead over him for most of the primary campaign.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m down 20 points, and I’m going to come from behind and win,” Malloy says.
In a speech last week to the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which endorsed him a day later, he summarized his campaign as based values, experience and trust.
He says he will continue to run on his experience as mayor of Stamford and the middle-class values he adopted growing up as the seventh of seven brothers and youngest of eight children.
“You’re going to hear those themes of values, and experience and ultimately who the people of Connecticut trust to run their state in its most difficult hour, arguably,” he says.
When the campaign finance reports are made public, Malloy says he expects they will show he was outspent by Lamont about 4 to 1. He says the money was negated by the right mix of message and hustle.
From last fall until the Aug. 10 primary, Malloy says the pace was constant and fast.
“It was an out and out sprint, and I never let up,” he says. “I love that kind of campaigning. It’s the kind of campaigning I look forward to, I think, as soon as Labor Day comes.”
Before Lamont began campaigning, Malloy had made his first lap around Connecticut. Lamont acknowledges seldom, if ever, finding a Democratic constituency that hadn’t already heard from Malloy.
“You want to know when I won the primary? It was in November, January, February, March and into April, right up until the day of the convention,” Malloy says. “The final week before the convention, I probably spoke to 500 delegates. I never stopped.”
Those contacts energized primary voters, the 25 percent of the electorate that nearly always shows up at the polls, he says.
“There was this point where people around Ned would refer to people who would vote in a low-turnout primary as insiders. Well, I got news for everybody, there’s not 150,000 insiders,” Malloy says.
On primary day, 180,926 Democrats showed up to vote for governor.
“They’re the Democrats who I always knew would come out to vote. If you stood at a polling place and watched the average age of the people who were voting, it was people who had voted in a lot Democratic primaries over the last four years,” Malloy says. “Don’t ever turn you back on your base.”
The final tally: 103,154 to 77,772.
“I expected to win. I was surprised by the size,” Malloy says. “In our wild moments, we thought we’d win by 4 points. And we won by 4 times that. If there is a shocker in the whole thing, that’s number one shocker. Number two, I had a firm belief that money doesn’t buy elections, and lo and behold I was proven right.”
Malloy says he never doubted victory, even when he trailed by 25 points in the polls. He paused, admitting to “momentary doubts.”
“But I never ended a day not believing I was going to win.”
In the closing days of the primary campaign, Malloy had a few favorite stops.
One was a loud Caribbean festival at Riverfront Plaza in Hartford, where he and Lamont each campaigned. Malloy covered twice the ground and talked to at least twice as many voters as Lamont. At times, he seemed to be racing the young video tracker who monitored him for the Lamont campaign.
At the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, he talked to nearly 100 voters on their lunch hour, not by giving a speech, but by working every table in the cafeteria.
“What campaigning is is making a personal contact, no matter what the size of the audience is. That’s what campaigning is. If it’s one on one, it’s easier. If it’s a big audience, it’s harder,” Malloy says. “But all campaigning is about giving each person an individual experience. That’s what it is.
“Anybody who thinks it’s something different is wrong.”