It opened with a hug, but quickly turned into a flurry of attacks and ended with one candidate knocking the other’s block off — figuratively if not literally.

Gubernatorial contenders Dan Malloy and Tom Foley, who already have engaged in several fiery exchanges in debates this week, took their heated rivalry onto FM radio drive-time Thursday on the Chaz & AJ In the Morning show on WPLR in Milford.

And in between tackling jobs, taxes, the death penalty — and man boobs — the attacks flew fast and furious.

“When you went away to make a lot of money, I went to New York to be a prosecutor,” Malloy told his GOP rival, a Greenwich millionaire.

“We ought to retire him,” Foley responded. “Maybe he could go back to being a prosecutor.”

“Tom doesn’t really understand every day people.”

“Dan’s made commitments to the unions.”

At one point, during the exchanges, the hosts played Gonna Fly Now,” Bill Conti’s instrumental theme for the “Rocky” movies, in the background.

When asked for specific areas he would cut state spending to avert a $3.3 billion budget deficit, Foley said a 10 percent cut in health care expenditures would save $500 million to $600 million. But health care is one of the fastest growing segments of the state budget, and the next governor’s budget-balancing plan is due in early February, which would leave Foley a little over two months after the election to find that reduction.

“Tom, come clean,” Malloy interrupted. “You’re going to do that in 60 days?”

“Are there rules here?” Foley appealed to the hosts.

“No touching,” Chaz responded.

The two candidates also clashed over capital punishment. Though Malloy favors repeal, he said he wouldn’t sign any bill that could lead to any existing death row inmates being spared the death penalty.

Foley, who favors capital punishment, pointed to the recent conviction of Steven Hayes, one of the two suspects in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion and triple slaying, and said it was arrogant of Malloy to assume any repeal bill wouldn’t give a death row inmate the legal leverage to mount a new appeal.

Foley stumbled at one point when he tried to defend fellow Republican and current governor, M. Jodi Rell. Foley said that while he opposed the $18.64 billion budget for 2009-10 that Rell allowed to become law without her signature — a plan that featured over $900 million in new taxes and fees — the outgoing governor didn’t have much choice.

“The governor doesn’t approve the budget,” he said. “I mean, the budget is done by the legislature. The governor proposes the budget. … She has to live with what’s passed.”

When Malloy pointed out that Rell could have vetoed the budget, Foley predicted that Democrats, who hold two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers, would have overridden any such veto.

“That’s not true,” Malloy said, noting that no vetoed budget has been overridden in Connecticut in more than two decades. “Tell the truth for one time in your life.”

“You’re running for governor, you ought to know a little bit about how state government works, Dan,” Foley replied.

In fact, the budget passed 22-13 in the Senate in August 2009, two votes shy of the 24 needed for a two-thirds margin in that 36-member chamber.

Foley, who criticized Malloy Wednesday for indicating on a state employee union questionnaire that he would not order layoffs, if elected, hammered Malloy on the air when the Democratic nominee said forced reductions were still an option.

“Dan, that’s not a commitment?” Foley said, adding that “I am not in the pocket of any special interests like the unions.”

Both candidates skillfully avoided Chaz’s question as to whether co-host AJ has “man boobs” and found common ground in a few other areas, including repeal of the current prohibition on Sunday liquor sales and the need for tougher a federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

The hosts, who got both candidates to hug at the beginning, asked each if, once the race is over, the winner might want to offer the loser a job.

Malloy, who has attacked Foley for his handling of a Georgia textile mill that folded two years after the Greenwich Republican sold it in the late 1990s, said his rival doesn’t have any unique qualifications.

“You can hire anybody who can run something into the ground,” Malloy said.

Foley, who has his own campaign ads chastising Malloy because Stamford lost 13,000 jobs over the past decade when Malloy was mayor, said that track record “isn’t going to be particularly valuable” in the Foley administration.

Malloy got the last word, or rather punch, when the two closed the 50-minute segment with a round of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, a popular game from the 1960s in which players control plastic robots that engage in a boxing match until one knocks the other’s head off.

Malloy, who controlled the blue robot, knocked the head of Foley’s red robot about 30 seconds into the bout.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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