By Gregory B. Hladky
5:05 PM EDT, July 30, 2013
Last year, Barack Obama won reelection in spite of — not because of — his first term as president, and he had Republican hard-liners to thank for the victory. Connecticut's Dannel Malloy has to be hoping that same formula will rescue him.
So far, the Connecticut GOP seems to be working its increasingly conservative ass off to make Malloy's "My-First-Term-Really-Wasn't-That-Awful" Democratic reelection campaign actually look feasible.
-Republicans just reanointed as their state party chairman a conservative named Jerry Labriola Jr. His initial term in office wasn't what you'd call successful. Cluster-flop would be more appropriate: Democrats took every congressional and statewide office imaginable and retained their iron-fisted domination of the General Assembly.
(One can only imagine Malloy's private reaction to the reinstatement of Labriola. How about a fist-pumping "Yesssssss!")
-As one of his most "trusted advisers," Labriola has taken on board Linda McMahon. Yep, she's the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO who blew $100 million of her own loot in two spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to buy herself a U.S. Senate seat.
McMahon still has plenty of her fortune left and shows no signs of reluctance to spread it around the Connecticut Republican landscape. It's just possible this has something to do with Labriola's decision to invite McMahon in as a key member of the GOP tag team.
-The Republican favorite to take on Malloy in next year's race for governor appears to be Tom Foley, Connecticut's version of a Mitt Romney clone.
Foley is a wealthy businessman who spent $10 million of his own cash only to narrowly lose to Malloy three years ago. Foley was done in pretty much the same way as Romney lost (think minority and women voters) against Obama.
-The top challenger to Foley looks like state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield. Son of a popular former congressman, McKinney is an old-school moderate Republican, a dude the NRA considers an enemy because of his post-Sandy-Hook-massacre pro-gun-control vote.
McKinney is exactly the sort of middle-of-the-road political beast that used to attract votes in our Land of Steady Habits. And that's also the species that gives GOP right-wingers (like the ones who tend to choose Republican nominees these days) severe gastro-intestinal distress.
-Another potential GOP gubernatorial wannabe is Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who's mostly known outside his home city for his attempts to round up and get rid of undocumented immigrant workers. Remember all those Latino voters who didn't vote for Romney last year? They'd love not voting for a guy like Boughton.
The way the Republican side of things is shaping up has to be encouraging for Malloy. And he's going to need all the encouragement he can get.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Foley, despite being tarnished as a 2010 loser, leading Malloy by 7 percentage points. The same survey had McKinney three points behind Malloy, not bad when three-quarters of those polled didn't even know who McKinney was.
Chief executives who preside over ugly economic times often end up being quickly bounced out by unhappy voters. Obama's ability to overcome that handicap (admittedly with a mega-ton of help from the GOP) should serve as Malloy's campaign pattern.
There is a political dung heap of parallels between Obama's first term as president and Malloy's first as governor.
Each inherited mind-numbing economic and budget calamities from their Republican predecessors. Huge tax increases and unemployment created deep scars on both their records.
Obama managed to overcome the sort of sluggish economic recovery that should have doomed him to being a one-termer. Malloy's attempting to do the same, spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a frantic dance to seduce businesses and research outfits into bringing jobs here. (Sort of a Connecticut take on the federal bailouts of finance and the car industry.)
A key part of Obama's campaign success was money. He managed to raise a phantasmagorical $730 million last year, which allowed him to outspend Romney. A lot of that cash came in because of liberal fears about what the Republican extremists might do if they were able to capture the White House.
Malloy is expected to once again use Connecticut's public campaign financing system the way he did in 2010, but with a lovely new twist. Under the old system, Malloy got about $6 million and swore not to take any outside cash from lobbyists and other special interests.
This year, Connecticut Democrats changed that system (some might use the term "gutted"). They pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which lets all kinds of special interests spend virtually unlimited amounts on political campaigns, and insisted something had to be done.
The Democrats — with Malloy's pseudo-sad-eyed support — used their majorities in the state House and Senate to ram through legislation that rips open gaping loopholes in the campaign finance system. Now, special interest "dark money" will be able to flood into state parties, and those party organizations will be able to spend unlimited amounts on candidates.
Good government types are moaning that those sweet Democratic revisions have cleared the political road for a return to the days of "Corrupticut," a nickname popular during the scandal-plagued era of ex-Gov. John G. Rowland.
The point being that Malloy can still take that $6 million in taxpayer campaign money next year and also get as much as he wants or needs from the state Democratic Party.
Republicans were appalled, possibly in part because Malloy will now have a counter to all the outside conservative cash that may come pouring in to pay for anti-Malloy TV ads next year.
For Malloy, with 16 months to go until the election, things are probably going about as well has he could hope, at least on the Republican side.
The Democrat will be rooting hard for another vicious GOP primary fight, just like what happened in 2010 and just like what helped Obama last year.
And despite Labriola's pleas for "no-primary" unity, that's exactly what could happen.
After all, given their recent history, no one should underestimate the ability of Connecticut Republicans to screw themselves. Not even when they're up against Dannel Malloy.
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