Whatever the question, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley pummeled each other Thursday in a tense debate broadcast on several radio and television stations, potentially reaching the broadest audience of their six scheduled debates.
Invitations to tell voters about their core values, moral philosophy and personal struggles with disability prompted only brief detours, then quick pivots to practiced talking points.
One day after a Quinnipiac University poll pronounced their race a dead heat, the first-term Democrat and his GOP challenger managed to find opportunity for conflict over pension funding, the cost of a college education, the state’s heavily regulated liquor market and the Sandy Hook school massacre.
A question about college tuition prompted Foley to accuse Malloy of “misappropriating” money by using the University of Connecticut Foundation to pay for his trip to speak at a conference at Davos, Switzerland, and visit China on a trade mission. Malloy ignored the gibe and talked about a college savings program, CHET.
WNPR host Colin McEnroe, the moderator of a debate sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association and available for broadcast by all its members, pushed the candidates at the end of a caustic hour to reveal something of their values, saying every governor faces an “unforeseeable moment.” At that moment, to whom or what do you turn?
“I turn to faith. I was raised a Catholic. I have strong beliefs. I also believe in the goodness of men,” Malloy replied.
But Malloy quickly pivoted away from moral values to managerial prowess, talking about his diligence in making sure the state was ready to cope with everything from the Ebola virus to a procession of major storms.
“I do things in a planned way,” Malloy said. “Yeah, I believe in God, and I pray and I hope that those things don’t happen. But during the time that I’ve been governor, I’ve had to respond to Irene and Sandy…In every one of those storms we got better at it.”
Foley used the question to suggest that the candidates be judged on how they have fared as family men and parents, saying the values instilled in the home can reveal the values of the candidates. Then came his pivot, a reminder of teacher anger over Malloy’s education reforms.
“For example, bullying,” Foley said. “I would never bully anyone as governor, but this governor is bullying teachers.”
Foley, whose first marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce, returned to parenting as a valid window into the candidates. His oldest son is a student at Harvard, and he is the father of 3-year-old twins with his second wife. Foley seemed on the verge of criticizing Malloy as a parent, but he stopped short of mentioning the governor’s children.
In March 2009, when Malloy was the Stamford mayor and ramping up his campaign for governor, his middle son was arrested for the second time in 16 months, drawing police to Malloy’s home in search of drugs. In an interview then, Malloy and his wife, Cathy, revealed that their son, who has since graduated from college, had struggled with drugs and depression for nine years.
“How have you done as a parent? How has your family fared?” Foley asked Wednesday. “I think that would provide tremendous insight.”
It was his last comment as time ran out.
After the debate, Foley said, “Nobody in the media has wanted to look into how do these candidates, how have they done in their families, how have they done as a parent.”
Was he suggesting the governor has failed as a father?
“I don’t know,” Foley replied. “I don’t know that much about his family.”
Malloy ignored the remark in his closing and declined to comment after the debate.
The two men broke some new ground.
Foley, who generally favors shedding regulation and allowing market forces to shape commerce, said he would oppose any further efforts to deregulate the liquor industry, saying it would destabilize family-owned package stores and cost jobs.
“We don’t need any more job losses. I would defend these small businesses,” Foley said.
Malloy, whose deregulation push resulted in the legalization of Sunday liquor sales in Connecticut, said he would continue seek a regulatory structure that promoted competition and lower prices.
“I’ll side with the consumers,” he said.
The pair scuffled again on the gun-control law Malloy helped craft after the murders of 26 children and staff at Sandy Hook.
“It hasn’t made our state any safer,” Foley said.
Foley said the real issue of Sandy Hook was the mental state of the killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who shot his mother, loaded her car with 30-round magazines, an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun and two handguns and drove to the school in Newtown.
Malloy disagreed. Lanza, the son of a wealthy parent who had insurance, faced few barriers to mental health care, he said. Acting to ban the sale of large-capacity magazines and military-style weapons like the AR-15 was a rational response, Malloy said.
“Of course, it’s had an impact,” he said.
Foley, who says he has responsibility for a sister with mental illness, said the governor’s comment was an insult to families who struggle to find care for their relatives.
“You are grandstanding, sir,” Foley said. “You are grandstanding.”
Malloy said he insulted no one.
“Don’t showboat this,” he said.
Foley, who saw his own negatives rise in the latest poll, pressed an offer for a truce on personal attacks, mocking the governor for not personally responding to the proposal. Malloy treated the offer as a gimmick, leaving no doubt he will continue to challenge.
“I think fair is fair, Tom. People deserve to know who you are and what you are,” Malloy said. “The better people get to know you, the less they like you.”
Foley, a Greenwich businessman, said Malloy is obsessed with his management of two companies. One is a textile manufacturer that he expanded through acquisitions, only to lose control of the business as the domestic textile industry faltered. The other is a manufacturer of industrial transmissions, where he hired replacement workers after his unionized employees went out on strike.
“Connecticut has some very serious problems,” Foley said. “I think this campaign should focus on that.”
Foley said the campaign should be about Malloy’s record as governor, not his as an entrepreneur.
“The governor is trying to make this about me,” Foley said. “But in fact, it’s about you.”
The debate at the Hartford Hilton was broadcast live on at least two television stations, WFSB, Channel 3 and WTNH, Channel 8, and several radio stations. It was the fourth of seven scheduled debates, although Foley says he will skip a debate on NBC Connecticut.
Joe Visconti, a petitioning candidate who was supported by nine percent of likely voters in the last Quinnipiac poll, was shut out of the first four debates. He is invited to a debate next week in New London and to the NBC forum, which is now set to go forward with Malloy and Visconti.
|7 p.m., Oct. 16||Garde Arts Center, New London||The Day/CPTV|
|7 p.m., Oct. 23||NBC Connecticut studios, West Hartford||NBC Connecticut|
|8 a.m., Nov. 2||WTNH studios, New Haven||WTNH|