Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, benched as a Hillary Clinton campaign surrogate in recent weeks in deference to Bernie Sanders, all but auditioned Friday for the role of taking down Donald J. Trump’s choice of a running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
Malloy, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, has twice clashed with Pence, who up until Friday was a GOP governor seeking re-election. Malloy accused Pence of signing a law discriminatory to gays, and he quickly moved to welcome a Syrian refugee family whom Pence did not want in Indiana.
“With his pick of Mike Pence, Donald Trump is doubling down on the hatred and bigotry that has defined his campaign,” Malloy said. “Gov. Pence has a long history of supporting policies that attack people who don’t look like him. That was on full display when he signed his anti-LGBT right-to-discriminate law and tried to block a Syrian refugee family – some of the most vulnerable people in the world – from entering his state. I was proud when the state of Connecticut stood up to this display of hatred in public policy.”
Malloy has kept a lower profile in recent weeks as the Sanders campaign made clear Malloy had gotten under their candidate’s skin as a high-profile Clinton surrogate. As the governor of a state that suffered a mass shooting, Malloy drew coverage attacking Sanders for supporting legislation protection gun manufacturers from liability lawsuits, saying the Vermont senator had “blood on his hands.”
Sanders asked that Malloy be removed as co-chair of the Platform Committee, but the governor pledged that the Sanders’ forces would get a fair hearing when the committee met last weekend in Orlando, Fla. Mike Mandell, the executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, and other senior Sanders’ aides chatted amiably with Malloy after the meeting.
“They came up to us and said, ‘You did what you said you’d do, and you were fair’,” Mandell said.
Now that Sanders has endorsed Clinton and Trump has picked Pence, Malloy is back in the business of being a Clinton surrogate. Material the DGA intended to use in Pence’s re-election now is part of the presidential campaign, including a religious freedom law passed in response to the legalization of gay marriage.
Gays and lesbians complained that the law Pence signed could worsen discrimination against them. Under pressure from the business community, Pence agreed to an amendment that provided some protections to the LGBT community.
“But, his attacks on women and LGBT people go back much further,” Malloy said. “He approved one of the nation’s most oppressive, anti-woman, anti-choice laws. He led the GOP’s ignorant crusade to deny women health care choices by defunding Planned Parenthood, and he has even supported anti-LGBT conversion therapy.”
If Malloy is back in the game, it is unclear how prominent a role he will play at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which begins July 25, or on the road through November. With an approval rating of 24 percent in Connecticut, he is unlikely to be in demand by Democratic legislative candidates at home.
Mandell said Malloy has made clear to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee he would do whatever he could to assist Clinton, whether that meant speaking out or laying back. He barely was seen with Clinton during her Connecticut appearances.
One of Trump’s favorite surrogates, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, also is unpopular at home. But the value of surrogates are their ability to deliver a message to a variety of audiences.
“I think there are principled fights that Pence and the governor have had. He’s ready to go,” Mandell said. “More so than a lot of people, he’s got a good story to tell about what Mike Pence’s role on the ticket is.”
Pence is an attractive choice to social conservatives, but Democrats say he can help them mobilize social liberals, a role that could fit Malloy. He has taken strong liberal stands on immigration, abortion, gun control and gay rights, and he talks about being bullied as a child with severe learning disabilities.
“I spent most of my young life being pushed around by bullies like Donald Trump and Mike Pence who want to punish people for their differences. Luckily for me, there were people like my mother who saw my potential and helped me become who I am today,” Malloy said. “I will always stand up to bullies and bigots like Mike Pence and Donald Trump because this country – and the people who have been bullied and pushed around for far too long – simply cannot afford these backwards policies and divisive rhetoric.”
Republicans said Malloy’s strong rhetoric reflected poorly on him, not Pence.
“There are certain rules in politics, and when you attack a fellow governor as a bigot and racist and stuff like that, it just reinforces the image of Malloy as a bully and as sort of a rude, insecure amateur,” said Chris Healy, a former Connecticut GOP chairman. “He was given the keys to the kingdom, and here we are. To get people not to look at the house Connecticut in flames, he goes after a perfectly decent guy like Mike Pence, who has never done a thing to insult Dan Malloy.”
J.R. Romano, the current state chairman, said he saw Malloy’s statement as evidence of a desire to raise his profile – and talk about anything except the Connecticut budget and economy. He was not surprised by the sharp tone.
“His personality is prickly anyway,” he said.
Democrats already have announced they will strike a different tone on immigration by featuring a “dreamer,” one of the young, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and now are trying to obtain legal status in the only country they know as home, on the first night of their convention later this month in Philadelphia.
Michelle Obama and Sanders also are scheduled as opening night speakers.
The Republican National Convention opens Monday in Cleveland. Their opening night theme is expected to focus on the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which occurred when Clinton was secretary of state.