Republicans line up for run at governor

Despite Gov. Dannel P. Malloy making it official with his announcement Thursday that he would not seek a third, Democrats will still face a tough slog in trying to retain the state's top office. Evidence of that reality is the relatively large number of Republicans who have expressed an interest in running in 2018, knowing that they likely would not be going against the unpopular incumbent.

Even in the best of times, holding the top executive position for a third term is tough for a party. Change for change’s sake becomes attractive.

And these are not the best of times. Since his election in 2010, Malloy has faced one fiscal crisis after another. Connecticut’s grossly underfunded pension plan, its deep debt, and a sluggish economic recovery that has produced disappointing tax revenue have made every state budget a struggle to enact. During that time Democrats have also controlled the legislature. The party has no one else to point to for blame.

Tax increases have angered taxpayers, concession demands and layoffs have alienated the state unions, and the inability of the governor and the legislature to fix the mess has discouraged businesses from expanding or even staying in Connecticut.

You could argue that Malloy inherited these problems, leaving him with only unpopular choices. Politically, that doesn’t much matter. The problem and blame are Malloy’s, accounting for his dismal approval ratings in the 20s.

Whoever Democrats turn to post-Malloy, the Republican contender who emerges with the nomination should be the favorite.

While the Democratic majority is tough to dislodge from the state Senate and House of Representatives — because Democrats dominate the populace urban centers and lock up most of those seats — the governor’s race is a different matter. Suburban and small-town voters have greater sway in a statewide vote and often line up with the fiscal conservative message of Republicans.

Before Malloy’s 2010 election it had been 24 years since a Democrat won the governorship.

The latest Republican to form an exploratory committee is Dave Walker. In 2014, Walker lost a three-way primary for lieutenant governor. Voters opted instead for Heather Somers of Groton, now a state senator. The Day endorsed Walker. Personally, I found him to be among the most impressive candidates interviewed. That includes those running for governor.

A Bridgeport resident and investment manager, Walker served as U.S. Comptroller General and the head of the Government Accountability Office. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, appointed him and he continued under Republican President George W. Bush. He takes a pragmatic approach to fiscal policy. As a candidate, however, he would have to improve his 2014 performance.

Other Republicans expressing an interest in the state’s top job include Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who has tried before, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, who made a strong run for treasurer in 2014 before coming up short against Democratic incumbent Denise L. Nappier, and Steve Obsitnik, a Republican businessman and Navy veteran who previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress. After seeing Tom Foley defeated by Malloy in the past two elections, Republicans might prove reluctant to choose another businessman with little political experience.

While she has not made an announcement, state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides sounded like a gubernatorial candidate when she met with our editorial board March 9. Asked what she would like to see in a Republican candidate, Klarides responded, “a moderate common-sense person who approaches … matters of the state in a business-like way.”

“And I think it’s definitely time for a woman,” she concluded, flashing a smile.

Did she have anyone in mind? Did her comments amount to a candidacy announcement?  She smiled again and moved to another topic.

That sure doesn’t sound like no.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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