Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first re-election commercial was crafted by the firm behind President Obama’s successful campaigns, but its pacing, imagery and tone suggest the influence of the seminal ad that defined Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign: “It’s morning again in America.”

Both are 60-second commercials that tell the story of men who inherited a bad economy and who needed to convince voters that, yes, problems remain, but that a corner has been turned. Malloy’s ad builds to a line less lofty than Reagan’s new day dawning, yet is not without punch: “It hasn’t been easy, but we’re coming back.”

With the new ad that went on the air Monday, Malloy’s campaign does what the first-term Democrat has been unable to consistently do over four years: Point to challenges without complaint and mark progress without bravado.

With a buy that places the ad on broadcast stations and cable systems, Malloy now joins the campaign of Republican Tom Foley on the air.  John P. McKinney, who is challenging Foley in a GOP primary, also has purchased air time, according to records on file with the FCC.

The FCC web site shows Malloy paid $53,800 to WFSB, Channel 3 and $19,200 to FoxCT, but those records sometimes lag actual purchases.

In Malloy’s 30-second spot, a deep-voiced announcer softly recites the challenges of Malloy’s first term, explicitly noting the depth of an inherited fiscal mess, while offering a circumspect reference to the mass murder of 26 children and educators in Newtown as “unimaginable evil let loose in a school.”

“Connecticut’s seen some tough times in recent years. One of the worst budget crises in our history. Historic storms that battered our communities. Unimaginable evil let loose in a school. Through it all, Dan Malloy has been strong, steady by our side.”

The piece by AKPD Message and Media capitalizes on what polls have found to be an asset: Malloy is seen as a strong leader, good in a crisis, even if his overall job approval never has topped 50 percent. It addresses claims he is bad on education, noting he has grown local aid to education, despite struggling with tight budgets.

Reagan had a better story to tell in 1984, but Malloy’s ad makes a similar pivot, claiming progress after stagnation, optimism after drift. It doesn’t make the mistake of telling voters what the polls say they wouldn’t believe, that Connecticut is strong. Instead, it merely tries to persuade that the state is stronger.

The campaign frames Malloy’s bluntness as virtue.

“Facing the budget crisis, he told us the truth. We had one of the worst per person deficits in America and needed spending cuts and new revenue to get it under control,” the announcer says. “Now our deficit is down, and we’re creating jobs again. And while other states cut education, Malloy increased funding each year.”

Republicans quickly took issue with the ad’s accuracy. While Malloy took office facing a projected deficit of $3.65 billion, the legislature’s non-partisan budget office says Connecticut faces a potential $1.3 billion shortfall in fiscal 2016 that could go even higher the following year.

The GOP also noted that Malloy cut the so-called “current services” budget for education, but Malloy’s ad is accurate in claiming that actual spending on education rose each year he was in office.

The pieces covers a lot of ground in 60 seconds, much like the image Malloy often projects, as a brusque man forever in a hurry. It addresses economic development programs praised by business and two measures he delivered for labor — two laws raising the minimum wage, and another mandating paid sick days on some private employers.

The commercial ignores some of the governor’s controversial economic-development policies that provided hundreds of millions of dollars to profitable companies like ESPN, NBC and Cigna – aid that opponents deride as corporate welfare.

Instead, it talks about the generally well-received support — much of it authorized in a bipartisan jobs bill — extended to small business, claiming it helped create over 14,000 jobs. One big-ticket item highlighted also had strong legislative support: a deal with United Technologies Corporation that deepens the state’s largest private employer to Connecticut.

The campaign also reminds voters of Malloy’s role in passing sweeping gun controls after Newtown, again without mentioning Newtown, saying he “provided the leadership to protect our families from gun violence. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re coming back.”

Reagan’s ad ended with him embraced by the U.S. flag. Aside from a mandatory disclaimer, Malloy’s commercial closes with a tag line spoken by the announcer and presented on screen: “Dan Malloy. Strength. Conviction. Progress.”

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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