Gov. Dannel P. Malloy let Connecticut voters in on the state’s worst-kept political secret Friday: He and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman are running for re-election.
The only surprise was the time and place of the announcement. With a wry smile, Malloy confirmed their candidacy in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building at the conclusion the press conference that follows every monthly meeting of the Bond Commission.
“Nancy and I have talked about the race, and we both reached a mutual conclusion that we should go to the people of the state of Connecticut and ask them for their support to continue the work that we’ve been undertaking in the last 3.6 years,” Malloy said. “We’re very happy to announce today that we will begin that work.”
The crowds of lobbyists, legislators and Capitol staffers that assemble for the monthly sessions, which are amplified and can be heard throughout the five-story atrium, applauded.
It was a not a spontaneous comment.
The applause had barely ended when his campaign sent an email blast to launch his campaign website and solicit a meticulously assembled list of supporters for the first of the $100 contributions Malloy needs to qualify for public financing.
“I’m in. I just announced that I’m running for reelection and wanted to make sure you heard the news from me right away,” he said in the email. “This campaign will be about you and the work we’ve done together over the last three years. But it’s mainly about what we still need to accomplish together in Connecticut.”
Malloy, 58, the first Democratic governor to seek re-election in Connecticut since William A. O’Neill in 1986, begins his formal campaign in a dead heat with Republican Tom Foley, the man he defeated in 2010 by just 6,404 votes.
He is hardly beginning a campaign from scratch. At his prodding, the state Democratic Party has collected more than $2.3 million since January 2013, allowing the party organization to expand its staff and capabilities.
One of those hires, James Hallinan, immediately left the party to become the chief campaign spokesman. Jon Blair, who has been seen as the campaign-manager-in-waiting since arriving in November, was named Friday to manage the campaign.
Blair managed the congressional campaign of Robin Kelly, a gun-control advocate who won a special election in April for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat. Since arriving in Connecticut, Blair has been director of the Democrats’ coordinated campaign, a job that typically entails building a base of common resources used to identify supporters and deliver them to the polls.
Malloy’s previous last word on re-election had been that he and Wyman would make no announcement until after the conclusion of the General Assembly session on May 7, a week before Democrats intend to re-nominate them and the rest of the statewide ticket by acclamation.
While the governor’s reticence to formally announce had generated speculation about his intentions, the state Democratic Party never had doubts: It only booked a Friday evening for the nominating convention, anticipating no need for roll call votes.
Malloy has had the stride and swagger of a candidate at least since February, when he embraced President Obama’s call for a $10.10 minimum wage and set it as a priority for the 2014 session. The Democratic legislature delivered Wednesday, and Malloy signed it into law Thursday evening in a public ceremony carried live on the 6 o’clock newscasts of the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates.
Despite his anemic poll numbers — the governor has never broken 50 percent in any key rating — Malloy enjoys several advantages over a Republican field of a half-dozen candidates, starting with a party that is unified, well-funded and well-organized.
Democrats are the majority party, holding every statewide office, every congressional seat and a majority of the General Assembly. All six statewide officeholders and all five U.S. House members are seeking re-election. Republicans face the prospect of a summer of internal battles.
Tom Foley, the 2010 GOP nominee, leads five others in the race for the Republican nomination: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Sen. John P. McKinney of Fairfield, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Martha Dean of Avon and Joe Visconti of West Hartford.
All the serious contenders are trying to qualify for public financing, which requires raising $250,000 in donations of no more than $100 and agreeing to live within the public grant amounts of little more than $1.25 million for a primary and $6 million for the general election.
Outside money is expected to be a major factor: Malloy has been raising money for the Democratic Governors Association, and Foley has close ties to two independent-expenditure groups, as was reported earlier Friday by The Mirror.
Malloy’s weaknesses start with the economy. The unemployment rate has dropped in each of the last seven months to 7 percent now, but Connecticut has recovered only about half the jobs lost in the 2008 recession.
Malloy has spent heavily on economic aid, betting heavily on bioscience with an expansion of the University of Connecticut Health Center and the subsidy of a private genetics research facility, The Jackson Laboratory. His “First Five” program — a series of inducements offered to major employers — have solidified the commitment of some corporations to Connecticut, yet opened him to accusations of offering corporate welfare.
Incentives offered to small businesses, including some approved in a bipartisan special session on jobs at the end of his first year as governor, have won better reviews from business groups, as has the performance of his chief adviser on economic development, Catherine Smith.
Overall, the economy is a soft spot the Republicans will repeatedly attack. The first hit came Friday from Jerry Labriola Jr., the GOP state chairman.
“Unfortunately for the governor, the numbers don’t lie: Connecticut’s economy is among the worst in the nation, our unemployment rate remains significantly higher than the national average, and hundreds-of-thousands of Connecticut families are struggling to make ends meet,” Labriola said. “Under Governor Malloy, we have gone in the wrong direction. As many states are enjoying real economic recovery, Connecticut continues to lag far behind.”