Gov. Dannel P Malloy and Tom Foley kept their distance at this debate. CT MIRROR
Gov. Dannel P Malloy and Tom Foley kept their distance at this debate.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Tom Foley kept their distance at this debate. Dennis House moderated. CT MIRROR

West Hartford – In a televised debate Tuesday night, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley met in a political Twilight Zone, each unable or unwilling to recognize the reality of the other’s Connecticut.

Malloy defied polls that show a dispirited and disapproving electorate. He claimed progress, pronouncing himself proud of resolving an inherited $3.67 billion deficit without gutting municipal aid. Foley all but suggested he was mad, seeking votes in a different dimension.

“Sometime, I wonder if he’s living in the same state,” Foley said, prompting titters. Later he said, “It’s simply not true what you’re telling people.”

But Foley joined Malloy in downplaying non-partisan projections of a significant deficit in the coming year, albeit one far smaller than what confronted the first-term Democratic governor after he defeated Foley in 2010. To do otherwise would require Foley to promise more than his proposed budget freeze.

Foley, who promised four years ago he could have tackled the deficit with $2 billion in spending cuts, never quite explaining how he would close the remaining $1.67 billion gap, criticized Malloy for imposing what he called a needless $1.8 billion tax increase in 2011.

He conceded later to reporters he wouldn’t call for its repeal, saying such cuts no longer were feasible.

“I understand just a few minutes ago he told you that he wouldn’t repeal what I’ve done already. That’s very interesting,” Malloy said, addressing the press after Foley’s departure. “So he knows we did what we had to do to get through that problem.”

The debate at the University of St. Joseph, which was broadcast live on WFSB, was the second of seven general-election debates. They meet again 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Connecticut in a forum televised on FoxCT.

Joe Visconti, a petitioning candidate, was not invited to either debate. Organizers said their criteria for inclusion was 10 percent in a poll, and Visconti was supported by seven percent of likely voters in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Over an hour, moderator Dennis House of WFSB questioned the two major-party candidates on the economy, the expansion of casino gambling, education policy and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Both men opposed allowing additional casinos in the state or the legalization of pot. In a series of rapid-fire questions at the close of the debate, House asked them if either had smoked marijuana.

“Whoa, I didn’t know I was going to get that question,” Foley said, laughing. “Yes, I have.”

“Once,” Malloy replied.

Sometimes ignoring the question, both men tried to define the other’s character.

Tom Foley looks into the lights during the sound check
Tom Foley looks into the lights during the sound check CT MIRROR

Malloy twice talked about Foley’s recent release of tax returns, which showed that the wealthy Greenwich businessman paid no taxes in two of the three years, when his business losses offset his income.

When House asked if either could name a tax that was too low, Foley replied, “No.”

Malloy said, “The ones he paid.”

The crowd laughed.

At least twice, Foley talked about the state’s need for a leader who was civil and who listens, obvious references to Malloy’s aggressive style and penchant for lecturing audiences.

“I’m actually a very good listener,” Foley said after the debate. “I’m very good at walking up to people and striking up a conversation and getting a candid view of how they feel. And if this governor thinks that people in Connecticut think things are OK, and we’re making progress and we should just stay the course, he’s not talking to enough people.”

Standing 25 feet apart on a broad stage, the two men seemed unsure how to engage at times. In their previous debate, the two candidates sat in club chairs, nearly within reach of each other.

Foley declared the state an economic disaster, desperate for new leadership; Malloy pointed to signs of progress, conceding there is much to do.

“I’m proud of the investments we’re making,” Malloy said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy checks his notes before the broadcast.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy checks his notes before the broadcast. CT MIRROR

“Governor, you lost 3,600 jobs in August,” Foley said. “If you think things are going well, you need to check with other people.”

Malloy retorted that the state gained 3,100 jobs in July.

Foley was unsure how to react when Malloy suggested something was amiss in a multi-millionaire, the owner of a mansion, a yacht and a jet, paying no taxes.

The Republican said he had no taxable income and that Malloy actually out-earned him. Seemingly at a loss, Foley finally said, “Congratulations.”

In his closing state, Foley asked voters to weigh his view of reality against the governor’s

“You have a very important decision to make five weeks from today,” Foley said. “You agree with Gov. Malloy that everything is OK in Connecticut. We’re making progress. If we just stick with everything we’re doing, everything will be fine. Or do you agree with me that we’ve lost ground and that we have many serious things we need to do.”

Malloy used the word “proud” a dozen times in his closing remarks.

He was proud of the progress on the economy, proud of twice raising the minimum wage, proud of a paid sick days law, proud that Electric Boat is expected to produce 10 submarines in coming years and Pratt & Whitney has its biggest backlog of engine orders since 1983, proud that crime is down and graduation rates are up.

He pointed to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman in the front row and said he was proud of her overseeing the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“I am proud to have been your governor, and I am asking for your vote.”

The governor, who needs to do better among female voters to counter Foley’s huge lead among men, opened by greeting his wife, Cathy, from the stage. He noted they just celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary.

At the conclusion, Malloy strode across the stage to shake Foley’s hand. Cathy Malloy then joined the governor on stage.

After the debate, Foley said Malloy’s pride in his administration was evidence of being out of touch. Malloy said the word was well chosen, if only for how he refused to pass the state’s financial woes on to municipalities.

“We didn’t shift our burden to municipalities. No firemen, policemen, teachers, public works folks lost their job because we settled a problem like a lot of other states did,” Malloy said. “You want to know something? I’m proud that we didn’t cause teachers to lose their job. Or policemen. Or firemen.”

The debate can be watched online.

The Remaining Debates
Joe Visconti has a firm invitation to only one debate with Dannel P. Malloy and Tom Foley, a forum in New London on Oct. 16.
When Where Host
7 p.m., Oct. 2 University of Connecticut, Storrs Hartford Courant/FoxCT
4 p.m., Oct. 9 Hartford Hilton Connecticut Broadcasters Association
7 p.m., Oct. 16 Garde Arts Center, New London The Day/CPTV
7 p.m., Oct. 23 NBC30 studios, West Hartford NBC30
8 a.m., Nov. 2 WTNH studios, New Haven WTNH

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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