Every day he delays becoming a candidate for re-election, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy rewrites the Connecticut political calendar.
M. Jodi Rell created a candidate committee on Oct. 13, 2005, and kicked off her 2006 campaign for governor the next day. In his third and final run, John G. Rowland created a candidate committee on Nov. 30, 2000, 23 months before the 2002 election.
The Democratic Party is set to nominate Malloy by acclamation in just 82 days. He has no candidate committee, no way to begin raising money. And he professes, though he all but winks now when he says it, to be undecided about running.
So, what gives?
As the first incumbent to seek re-election under public financing, Malloy is playing by new rules. He is freed from an old timeline that was based in large measure on how long it might take to fill the campaign coffers. No one except Malloy and his inner circle knows when he will share the new calendar.
It could be a while.
“We’re in a new era with the timing,” said George Gallo, a longtime Republican strategist, now chief of staff to the House GOP in Hartford. Gallo laughed and said he was confident only of one thing: “He’ll announce by May 16.”
On that Friday evening, which is 10 days after the General Assembly adjourns its 2014 session, the Democratic Party is scheduled to nominate Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Treasurer Denise Nappier and Attorney General George Jepsen.
The timeline may be new, but the strategy is as old as the White House Rose Garden, the spot from which incumbents can be presidential, draped in the trappings of office, even when they also are being political. Malloy’s strategy is to be gubernatorial for as long as possible.
“I want to talk about government and policy and not politics,” Malloy told reporters this week.
He spoke after an event at the South Park Inn, a homeless shelter in Hartford where he outlined a series of initiatives to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. The day before, he was in New Haven to announce that Access Health CT, the state-run health insurance exchange, had met its enrollment goals seven weeks early. On Thursday, Malloy delivered televised storm briefings.
“I understand the strategy,” Gallo said. “If I was in his position, I’d probably be in that posture: Remain in the Rose Garden as long as possible.”
Malloy has not wavered from a posture evident since last summer, when Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, declared his candidacy. Despite a predilection for verbal jousting, Malloy has ignored the growing the Republican field. His strict message discipline itself is evidence he is a candidate, albeit undeclared.
“It’s in the future, and not relatively close,” Malloy said last July, when McKinney’s announcement prompted questions about his timetable for announcing his re-election plans. “I’ve got a job to do.”
In September, he ignored Tom Foley, his opponent from 2010, when Foley announced the creation of an exploratory committee and made uncorroborated claims of ethical lapses by Malloy that seemed calculated to provoke the governor.
“I got a job to do,” Malloy said then. “I’m the governor of the state of Connecticut.”
Malloy is hardly being apolitical or ignoring campaign preparations. He has helped raise money for the Democratic Party, which collected $2.4 million last year in its federal and state accounts. The money is bankrolling a staff expansion, broadening the party’s capacity for fundraising, grass-roots organizing, opposition research and messaging.
Foley and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who also began with an exploratory committee, have joined McKinney as declared candidates with a goal of qualifying for public financing before the Republican nominating convention May 17.
To qualify for public financing, which will provide grants of about $1.3 million for a primary and more than $6 million for the general election, candidates need to raise $250,000 in donations of no more than $100 each. For the Republicans, though Foley is believed to have the personal wealth to opt out as he did in 2010, qualifying buys credibility in the eyes of convention delegates.
Without competition for the Democratic nomination, Malloy has no such pressure. In fact, he will try to husband as much of his $6 million grant as possible until the fall. For Malloy, the active election calendar is briefer and, theoretically, less expensive than the one followed by Republicans.
His strategy has created awkward moments with the media. His constant ducking of the re-election question is branding him as the coy Malloy, potentially raising doubts about his commitment to the job.
Instead of simply saying, “I’ll make an announcement when the time is right,” the governor has repeatedly claimed that he has yet to make a decision about running.
Taking his words at face value means viewing the workaholic governor as wavering about the job he began seeking in 2005. Taking them as anything less means viewing the governor as disingenuous.
Last Sunday on WFSB’s “Face the State,” Malloy generated headlines about his indecision.
Host Dennis House: “Is there a chance you won’t run?”
Malloy: “I haven’t made a final decision, so I guess the answer to that is in the affirmative.”
From Charlotte, N.C., to Gulfport, Miss., to Fresno, Calif., to Anchorage, Alaska, an Associated Press story soon popped up on newspaper websites: “Malloy holds out possibility he may not run.”
Those headlines were potentially damaging for a governor who has been raising money here, in Washington, D.C., and in California for the Democratic Governors Association, which made nearly $1.8 million in independent expenditures in support of Malloy in 2010. Governors like Malloy, whose approval rating never has cracked 50 percent, generally wish to seem resolute about re-election, especially when soliciting donors.
Team Malloy declines to talk about whether the strategy of refusing to confirm his intentions to run is becoming a distraction. His closest media adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, whose consulting firm is a vendor to the state Democratic Party, declined to comment.
Rich Hanley, a Quinnipiac University journalism professor who closely follows state politics, said his sense is that only insiders are talking about the coy Malloy, not the general public.
“There’s no lasting downside to the game he is playing now. He’s probably waiting for February to clear the Olympics and the Oscars, then before baseball season comes out and make an announcement,” Hanley said. “People will forget he took a long time.”
Since his interview on “Face the State,” Malloy has remained resolute about avoiding talk about his re-election, though he seems less interested in selling audiences on his being undecided. On Monday, at the end of a live hour-long interview by John Dankosky on WNPR’s “Where We Live,” Malloy signaled he was looking ahead to a second term.
“If you look at what we have done in the state of Connecticut, it’s all about long ball, not short ball,” Malloy said. “I don’t think anyone in the state of Connecticut, people who like me and people who hate me, think I’m not in it for the long haul. Listen, I signed up for this job knowing how bad things were going to be.”
Malloy acknowledged his reticence was tactical.
“I’m trying to spend as much of my time not talking about politics as possible,” he said. “Republicans have a donnybrook on their hands. Let ’em go at each other. Let ’em have some fun. Let ’em, you know, throw some elbows at one another. I’m sure they’ll throw some in my direction. I’m in no hurry at all, John. I just don’t want to talk about politics.”