Governor's race tops year ahead in state politics

The race for governor should dominate state political news in Connecticut in 2014.

Though he has not formally announced yet, all indications are that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will seek re-election. The Democratic incumbent has been using changes in the campaign finance laws to solicit contributions to the Democratic Party, a war chest that will supplement the public financing of his campaign, should he decide to go that route a second time.

Malloy's strength is the public perception of him as a strong leader. He gets high marks from much of the electorate for his performance when a series of disasters befell the state during his first couple of years in office. His advocacy for tougher gun controls in Connecticut enjoys broad support, but is especially popular among core Democrats. His administration also pushed an education reform package through the legislature.

He is vulnerable, however, on the economy, which has improved only slowly in Connecticut and, in the opinion of many, not at all. Malloy suffers as well from the perception that he relied too heavily on tax increases to attack the state budget crisis he inherited. Arguably, the budget is not fixed. Nonpartisan analyses suggest that who ever becomes governor in November 2014 could confront a $1.1 billion shortfall, though the Malloy administration pegs the number at a less shocking $612,000. Both are better than the $3.1 billion fiscal hole Malloy faced when elected in 2010.

Add it all up and you get a governor who is politically vulnerable, but hardly fatally wounded.

Can Republicans take advantage of Malloy's vulnerabilities? Republicans could face a bruising nomination battle before selecting the party's gubernatorial candidate. Such a fight may well leave a weakened GOP candidate to face Malloy, something Republicans cannot afford in this Democratic state.

The top candidates for the Republican nomination are Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, minority leader of the Senate, and businessman and former ambassador Tom Foley, who lost to Malloy by just a few thousand votes in 2010. McKinney will enjoy the support of the party's establishment; while Foley will make a direct appeal to registered Republicans, contending he is the agent of change.

Longer shots are Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Sen. Toni Boucher of Milton.

No Linda for U.S. Senate

One sure prediction is that Republican Linda McMahon will not run for U.S. Senate again in 2014 - there is no Senate race. Due to the six-year terms senators enjoy, neither Democratic incumbent faces re-election this year. Sen. Richard Blumenthal will next face voters in 2016, Sen. Chris Murphy in 2018.

Meanwhile, it is hard to see anyone posing a serious threat to Congressman Joe Courtney, the incumbent Democrat serving the 2nd Congressional District that spans much of the eastern half of Connecticut. Courtney has well positioned himself as the type of moderate that well suits the district. He has done a great job in the House of Representatives fighting for submarine construction contracts for Electric Boat; he was a leader in the fight to block a big interest rate increase on federal student loans; is active on veterans' affairs; and will have a well-financed campaign.

Whoever emerges as his challenger will face long odds.

State Senate

There is speculation as to whether state Sen. Andrea Stillman will seek re-election to a sixth Senate term in the 20th District. Add in the six terms she served in the House and that's 22 years of commuting to Hartford for the woman who is now the Democratic deputy president pro tem.

Her departure would set off a scramble among fellow Democrats interested in the Senate seat. Meanwhile, potential Republican candidates could include East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, who inexplicably ran for Congress against Courtney in 2012, and former Bozrah First Selectman Keith J. Robbins, who now lives in New London and failed in a council bid Nov. 5 in that strongly Democratic city. The most recent redistricting added Bozrah to the 20th.

When Sen. Andrew Maynard failed to support the gun-control bill last year, some warned it would leave him vulnerable in his 18th District. I don't see it. If anything, the Democrat's stance could win him more votes in such northern towns as Griswold, Plainfield, Sterling and Voluntown. Progressive Democrats in Stonington and Groton may be unhappy with Maynard on the gun issue, but I don't see where they take their votes.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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