Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s relatively early announcement Thursday not to seek re-election gave his fellow Democrats seeking the gubernatorial nomination a crucial head start in fundraising.
But if initial Republican responses are any indication, the governor’s decision won’t deter the GOP from making the 2018 race a referendum on Malloy’s record.
“I’ve obviously had to consider what the future might look like for myself and my family, for the Democratic Party, and for our great state,” the governor said as he made his afternoon announcement in a Capitol hearing room.
And while that was the only portion of Malloy’s prepared remarks that referenced the Democrats’ hopes of retaining the governor’s office in 2018, others said the timing of the announcement spoke volumes.
The regular 2017 General Assembly session doesn’t end until June 7, and there has been open speculation on both sides of the aisle that the next state budget won’t even be resolved by then.
Major deficits totaling $3.6 billion are projected for the next two fiscal years combined, concessions talks between Malloy and unions still haven’t borne fruit after several months, and a sharp partisan divide has paralyzed the legislature much more than in past years.
So why would Malloy make himself a lame duck now when he could discuss his political future in July or this fall?
“It was a pretty unselfish move on his part,” said political consultant Roy Occhiogrosso, a friend of the governor’s and key coordinator of Malloy’s successful 2010 and 2014 campaigns.
To qualify for public financing, gubernatorial contenders must raise $250,000 in small contributions — no more than $100 per person – with the bulk coming from in-state residents.
Occhiogrosso said the average qualifying contribution to the 2010 Malloy campaign was about $65.
“Believe me, it is a daunting task,” Occhiogrosso said, adding that the timing of the governor’s announcement “makes a big difference” for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial field.
Malloy, who is 61, is making his decision far earlier than previous governors.
M. Jodi Rell waited until Nov. 9, 2009. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. announced on Sept. 30, 1993, and William A. O’Neill waited until March 1990 — the election year.
“I think all of this time helps,” said New Haven Democratic City Chairman Vin Mauro. “It’s not an easy process, to do a statewide run.”
New Haven played a key role in both of Malloy’s election wins.
The Democratic field is wide open.
Occhiogrosso said Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a former state comptroller and state representative, “has a leg up, should she choose to run. She is probably the most popular politician I have ever known, for good reason.”
Wyman, who stood by the governor during his announcement Thursday, hasn’t announced her plans, and Malloy wouldn’t speculate on them.
“I love Nancy Wyman, and she’s got decisions to make,” he said.
Besides Wyman, the potential Democratic gubernatorial field so far, according to many political observers, includes: Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo; Attorney General George Jepsen; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim; Chris Mattei, former chief of the financial fraud and public corruption unit within the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut; state Sen. Ted Kennedy; and Middletown Mayor Dan Drew.
Democrats eyeing the governor’s office largely limited their remarks Thursday to congratulations or acknowledgment of Malloy’s accomplishments.
“His task has rarely been easy, but he has never faltered in his commitment to his office or to the people of Connecticut,” Jepsen said. “I’m proud to call him a friend, and I look forward to continuing to work with his administration through the remainder of his term.”
“I’m sure this was a difficult decision for the governor after many years of dedicated public service through tough times,” Lembo said. “I wish Governor Malloy and his family the very best in this next chapter of their lives.”
“Governor Malloy has given years of service to our state, and we all owe him our gratitude,” Mattei said. “His leadership on paid sick leave, the minimum wage and gun safety has strengthened families and communities across our state.”
“Anyone who devotes themselves in the service of others deserves our respect and gratitude,” Drew said. “Passage of paid sick leave legislation and ending veterans’ homelessness are achievements that should be lauded by every resident of Connecticut.”
The timing of Malloy’s announcement doesn’t have close to the same significance for Republican contenders.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who sought the GOP nomination four years ago and is exploring another run, said he believes most Republicans’ plans to run never hinged on whether Malloy went for a third term.
“His proposals will be fair game in the coming debate,” Boughton said, adding that Malloy failed to stabilize state finances or rebuild Connecticut’s economy. “I wanted Dan Malloy to run, and I always said I will be the first one to donate to his re-election.”
And if the Republican Governors’ Association’s response to Malloy’s announcement — two critical media statements emailed within the first three hours — is any indication, the portion of the 2018 race focused on Malloy’s track record is soon to begin.
“Dan Malloy and his fellow Connecticut Democrats’ failed leadership has left the state falling further behind,” the RGA wrote. “Democrats who have stood by his agenda for the last six years are now faced with the impossible task of explaining to voters why their catastrophic policies are any different than Malloy’s.”
Occhiogrosso said the GOP is trying to detract from its own “enormous problem. In two words: Donald Trump.”
Occhiogrosso also said Malloy’s list of progressive accomplishments — an increased minimum wage, expanded affordable housing, repeal of the death penalty and numerous criminal justice reforms — have strong appeal to Connecticut voters.
Still, the list of Republicans potentially interested in Malloy’s job is long.
Besides Boughton, former U.S. Comptroller David M. Walker of Bridgeport and state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury are exploring bids for governor. The top Republicans in the state Senate and House, Len Fasano of North Haven and Themis Klarides of Derby, also are mentioned as possible contenders, though neither has formed an exploratory committee.
Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik, who in 2012 ran unsuccessfully for Rep. Jim Himes’ 4th congressional district seat, has raised more than $100,000 in an exploratory committee for statewide office, but has not specified whether he is interested in the governorship or the U.S. Senate. Other Republicans mentioned include state Sen. Tony Hwang and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst.
Former Republican State Chairman Chris Healy, now a strategist for the Senate Republican Caucus, said Malloy will remain a key part of GOP candidates’ messages.
“The problem the Democrats have is their 30 years of mismanagement has come to full harvest, and the public is well aware of who’s responsible,” he said. “ … There is no way he can walk away from a failed governorship, and his announcement is just an acknowledgment of lowering the sword, that his ways of managing Connecticut have been a failure.”