Wall Street Journal On Race for Governor

Star Power Drawn to Race in Connecticut

Obama Campaigned for Malloy Sunday, and Christie Was to Stump for Foley Monday


Joseph De Avila

Nov. 2, 2014 9:45 p.m. ET


MANCHESTER, Conn.—Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican Tom Foley were summoning high-powered surrogates to Connecticut for the final sprint of their tight race for governor.

President Barack Obama rallied with Mr. Malloy on Sunday in Bridgeport, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday was scheduled to make his fifth campaign stop in the state with Mr. Foley, who is in the midst of a 25-city bus tour.

Mr. Malloy, 59 years old, a former mayor of Stamford, and Mr. Foley, 62, a businessman from Greenwich and a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, each received 43% support in an Oct. 29 poll of likely voters conducted by Quinnipiac University.

In the two candidates’ first matchup in 2010, Mr. Malloy beat Mr. Foley by about 6,400 votes out of 1.146 million cast. In the rematch, neither candidate has been able to establish a meaningful lead, and polls show neither has an enviable favorability rating among voters.

“The central dynamic of the campaign is that Gov. Malloy has been vulnerable,” said Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. At the same time, he said, Mr. Foley “hasn’t exploited the vulnerability.”

Another layer of uncertainty was added to the race on Sunday, as conservative third-party candidate Joe Visconti said he was dropping out and endorsing Mr. Foley. Mr. Visconti, a Second Amendment advocate, polled at 7% in the most recent Quinnipiac survey. When the poll was recalculated without Mr. Visconti, Mr. Foley had 46% of the vote and Mr. Malloy had 45%.

Mr. Foley has focused his campaign on Mr. Malloy’s stewardship of the economy, but he hasn’t effectively communicated how he would lead the state, said Matthew Hennessy, a Democratic strategist unaffiliated with the Malloy campaign.

That has left Mr. Foley vulnerable to attacks from the Malloy campaign that have painted the Republican as an out-of-touch businessman, he said.

Yet Mr. Malloy has struggled to change the minds of voters about his job performance, particularly on the economy, Mr. Hennessy said. “You put that all together and you don’t see an opportunity for someone to break away,” he said.

The Oct. 29 Quinnipiac survey found that 52% of respondents had a negative view of Mr. Malloy, which Mr. Schwartz said largely could be attributed to the $1.5 billion tax increase the governor signed into law in 2011.

Art Kean, a Foley supporter who owns a gas station in New Canaan, greeted the Republican candidate with a handshake Friday during a stop on Mr. Foley’s bus tour. “This state is taxed too high,” said Mr. Kean, 65.

Mr. Foley had a 43% unfavorable rating, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. That was better than Mr. Malloy’s, but still not great, Mr. Schwartz said.

Mary LaRoux, 58, of Manchester, said Mr. Malloy has made progress fixing the state’s fiscal problems, particularly when he closed the $3.6 billion budget deficit he inherited in 2011 after Republican Gov. Jodi Rell left office. “The Democrats clean up what the Republicans did,” Ms. LaRoux said.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate of 6.4% still lags behind the national figure of 5.9%. But the state added 11,500 jobs in September, the largest single-month gain in 20 years.

Mr. Malloy said in an interview in Manchester that the job gains showed that the state was on the rebound. “I don’t think people understand how much the economy is getting better, in part because my opponent is telling them it’s not,” he said.

Mr. Foley played down September’s job gains in an appearance Friday at Stamford’s Bulls Head Diner. “We still have one of the worst job recovery rates of any state in the country,” said Mr. Foley.

Unlike in 2010, when Mr. Foley spent $11 million on his campaign, the race this year is evenly matched financially. Both men participated in the state’s campaign-finance program, which limits them each to $6.5 million for the general election. Outside groups spent more than $16 million on the race in support of both candidates, with Mr. Malloy receiving slightly greater support.

Analysts say the tightness of the Malloy-Foley race highlights the nature of the state’s voters—fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

They prefer Democratic presidents and Democratic representatives in Congress who will advocate for liberal social issues, said William Salka, chairman of the department of political science, philosophy and geography at Eastern Connecticut State University. That meant easy victories for Connecticut Democrats running for U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012.

“But when it comes to the governor, that fiscal conservatism kicks in,” Mr. Salka said. “There are a lot of people who are concerned with a Democrat in the governor’s mansion and a Democratic majority in the house and Senate and what that means for spending and for taxes.”

Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion in Connecticut from 1995 to 2010.