Nicole Hockley in Malloy ad.

A mother who urged passage of Connecticut’s sweeping new gun controls after her son was shot to death in the Sandy Hook school massacre appears in a new campaign ad for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“Gov. Malloy has the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing,” she says.

An ad entitled “Determination” features a testimonial from Nicole Hockley, one of the Sandy Hook parents who campaigned for the gun-control legislation sought and signed by Malloy after the murders of 26 children and staff at the Newtown school.

The Republican state chairman quickly criticized the spot as exploitative, but Hockley disagreed and an adviser to the re-election campaign of the first-term Democratic governor said Malloy’s response to the tragedy was an integral part of his record.

“The governor’s conduct that day, the leadership he exhibited then and in the aftermath of the tragedy, is part of his record, and his record is part of the campaign,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, an adviser who was with Malloy in Newtown on the day of the shooting.

The new ad promotes what polls have found is a strong attribute of a governor whose overall job rating never has topped 50 percent: He generally is seen as a strong leader, especially after a crisis.

The ad opens with Milford Mayor Ben Blake, a Democrat, praising Malloy for leading the state’s response to two devastating storms, Irene and Sandy. Milford is a coastal community whose relatively modest beachfront neighborhoods were hard hit by storm surges.

It quickly cuts to Hockley, one of the parents who gathered in a firehouse in Newtown after the shooting, only to be told by Malloy that no children were being treated at local hospitals. Their sons and daughters, all first-graders, were dead. Among the victims was 6-year-old Dylan Hockley.

The ad does not mention the shooting, her dead son or the gun-control measures she and some other Newtown parents sought after the assault. A label on screen identifies her by name and town as she says Malloy did “the right thing.”

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, one of the two candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor, represents Newtown. He, too, was at the firehouse that day, and he voted for the resulting gun law.

Tom Foley, the other Republican candidate, has criticized the law without saying whether he would objects to its ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 or high-capacity ammo magazines. The killer was armed with an AR-15 and 30-round magazines.

Hockley is one of the parents and other other relatives of the victims who have become activists. She testified in support of gun control at a public hearing conducted by the General Assembly in Newtown, witnessed Malloy sign the bill into law, and visited President Obama at the White House.

Occhiogrosso said the ad was appropriate.

“I think for many people in Connecticut and many people across the country, Nicole Hockley early on became the face of the tragedy itself, but more importantly the move to strengthen our gun laws,” Occhiogrosso said. “She is a very kind, generous, well-respected person who reached out and said she wanted to do whatever she could to help Gov. Malloy get re-elected. We are proud and grateful to have her support.”

Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. called the ad improper.

“In his latest attempt to distract voters from his abysmal record on jobs and his failure to grow Connecticut’s economy, Gov. Malloy manages to exploit both the Newtown tragedy and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy for political gain,” Labriola said.

In an interview with The Mirror, Hockley disagreed.

“No, this does not exploit what happened in Newtown. What this shows is support for the leadership that Gov. Malloy showed that day and in the weeks and months that followed,” Hockley said. “It’s what he did, I think I’m saying thank you.”

Malloy’s first ad, which talked about the fiscal and other challenges that faced the governor, also offered a circumspect reference to the mass murder as “unimaginable evil let loose in a school.”

The new ad also pivots from the natural disasters and Newtown to Malloy’s handling of financial challenges.

The text of the new ad:

Ben Blake: “Immediately after both storm Irene and storm Sandy the Governor was helping us with the recovery process.”

Nicole Hockley: “Governor Malloy has the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing.”

Narrator: “Cutting $12 billion in long-term debt. Increasing funding for education every year. Providing the leadership to protect our families from gun violence.”

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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