Gov. Ned Lamont came out swinging when he took the stage at the state Democratic party convention Saturday.

Accepting the party’s nomination for governor, Lamont kicked off his speech with a nod to his opponent, Bob Stefanowski, who received the GOP nomination Friday night.

“Last night, I was watching a little bit of the Republican convention,” Lamont said. “And one thing Bob said I sort of agreed with. He said, ‘So much can happen in four years.’ I’ll tell you, Bob, what happened in the last four years.”

Lamont said Connecticut was “in trouble” when he took office four years ago. He called out the “multibillion-dollar deficit,” and said the state’s transportation fund “was on fumes.” Today, the economy looks different, he said.

“Three straight years of a budget surplus and the biggest tax cuts this state has ever seen,” he said, his voice rising to a higher pitch. Delegates at the Xfinity Theater whooped.

The governor knows that his record on the economy is one of the strongest cases he can make to voters in this year’s election. Over Lamont’s first term, the state’s finances have turned rapidly from alarming deficits to fat surpluses, and he made sure to remind his party of that at this weekend’s convention.

That presents a challenge for Republicans this election cycle as they attempt to lay out a narrative of Democratic fiscal malfeasance.

“After 40 years of a Democratically controlled legislature, Connecticut is the definition of a failed state — billions and billions of debt with absolutely nothing to show for it,” Stefanowski said Friday night at the GOP convention. He has campaigned on a vow to make the state more affordable and focus on the “fundamental values” of “personal freedom, individual liberty, smaller government.”

Gov. Ned Lamont and his wife Annie at the Democratic party convention in Hartford on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

But Lamont’s biggest approval boost during his first term came from his handling of the pandemic. Lamont reminded Democrats that he kept schools and businesses open throughout most of the pandemic and supported industries like construction and manufacturing.

“We did everything to keep this state going, to do it safely,” he said, thanking the crowd for their efforts, as well. “We led by example, we led with respect, we looked out for each other.”

Alex Rodriguez, a delegate from Hartford, said he admired Lamont’s efforts to control the tenor of debate during the pandemic.

“He did a good job of staying away from being part of the loud mouths and the voices that are always trying to tear things apart,” Rodriguez said. He also commended the Lamont administration for making tests and vaccines available in all areas of the state. “I think he tried to maintain a consistent message and that helped people bring down their fears.”

While the state’s labor market is still struggling to recover entirely from the pandemic recession, Lamont took credit for the current abundance of job openings among Connecticut employers — even though many businesses describe the need to fill positions more as a challenge to their productivity.

“Yeah, four years does make a difference, Bob,” Lamont said, again calling out his opponent. “Four years later, we have 150,000 good-paying jobs out there right now, waiting for anybody who wants to step up to seize the opportunity.”

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association has expressed frustration about the labor shortage. Following this year’s legislative session, which wrapped up this week, the business association also lamented the nearly $500 million in federal unemployment loan debt that will largely fall to businesses to repay.

“I probably feel the pain of this personally more than anybody in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who owns a manufacturing company that employs 150 people in Connecticut. “Would I have liked a little bit more? Maybe. But I think ultimately the failure was at the federal level, to recognize a year and a half ago that this was a locomotive heading towards businesses all over the country.”

Needleman characterized Lamont’s economic policy as “prudent” overall. “I think he’s attempted to moderate some of the most progressive taxation impulses of Democrats. He’s been very thoughtful about that,” Needleman said.

But, Needleman said, he’s concerned about affordability, too — especially when it comes to energy prices.

“I’m afraid electric rates, heating your house with oil or gas, that’s going to impact a lot of people negatively. And I think that we may have to figure out something on that because we can’t have a third of the population unable to pay their utility bills,” he said.

Both Lamont and Stefanowski are businessmen. Stefanowski had a long career in corporate finance, with stops at GE and UBS before leading a global payday loan company. Before entering politics, Lamont was founder of Campus Televideo, a company that specialized in cable systems in colleges, universities and gated communities.

“Now, you know, when the governor was elected, there were those who doubted that a businessman could get things done in Hartford. He proved them wrong,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said in remarks following her nomination.

She wasn’t alone among Saturday’s speakers in highlighting a long list of the Lamont administration’s economic wins. That list includes paying down the state’s pension debt, building up the budget surplus, raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit, passing paid family medical leave, investing in education, job training and infrastructure, and cutting taxes.

“It was Democrats who balanced the budget, Democrats who cut taxes, and it was Democrats who made sure we have resources we need to invest in the future,” Bysiewicz said.

Gov. Ned Lamont accepted the Democratic nomination for another term in office at the party convention in Hartford on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Erica covers economic development for CT Mirror. Before moving to Connecticut to join the staff she worked in Los Angeles for public radio’s Marketplace and, before that, for the Wall Street Journal's L.A. bureau. She grew up in Minneapolis, MN, graduated from Haverford College and earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California.