Trump, Malloy loom over Connecticut's tight governor race

HARTFORD (AP) — Wealthy businessman Ned Lamont nearly rode a wave of Democratic anger over the Iraq war into the U.S. Senate in 2006. Twelve years later, he is hoping frustration with President Donald Trump will help carry him into Connecticut's governor's office.

But his Republican opponent, a fellow businessman, has an unpopular foil of his own in Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Bob Stefanowski has painted Lamont as a Malloy clone, someone who will raise taxes and fail to jumpstart Connecticut's economy. Lamont, meanwhile, has portrayed Stefanowski as a Trump disciple and threat to this politically blue state's values.

Both approaches appear to be working somewhat, considering an Oct. 30 Quinnipiac University Poll shows the race is very close. But many voters, already frustrated by the state's continued fiscal problems, are exasperated by an election they claim is long on negative ads and finger-pointing and short on specifics and good ideas.

"They're talking more about what this guy is going to do and what this guy is not going to do instead of addressing the problems during these debates, which kind of drives me crazy," said Keith Lesage, a 50-year-old design engineer at Westminster Tool Inc. in Plainfield. "Let's start talking more about the issues."

Lamont, Stefanowski, petitioning independent candidate Oz Griebel and two other independent candidates are competing Tuesday to fill the job being vacated by Malloy, who is not seeking a third term.

Malloy has suffered from low public approval ratings and taken the brunt of the public's blame for Connecticut's continued fiscal woes and higher taxes. While mostly absent from the campaign trail, grainy black-and-white pictures of Malloy appear frequently in ads run by Stefanowski and the Republican Governors Association, claiming Lamont will be a third Malloy term.

"We've had eight years of this insanity," Stefanowski said. "It's time for a change."

Stefanowski, 56, has been laser-focused on his tax cut plan, including phasing out Connecticut's personal income tax over eight years. It resonated with some Electric Boat workers, who gave Stefanowski the thumbs up during a recent shift change.

The tax generates roughly $9 billion annually, more than half of Connecticut's gross revenue. While Stefanowski claims reducing the tax burden will spark economic growth, Lamont called the proposal "radical." He said the wealthy will be the main beneficiaries while public services, such as education and health care, will be decimated. Both Lamont and Griebel have also slammed Stefanowski for not providing specifics on how he'll fill the revenue gap.

"Maybe Mexico is going to pay for it," Lamont recently quipped, a not-so-subtle reference to Trump and his claims Mexico will pay for a border wall.

Lamont, who has billed himself as a job creator, proposed more regionalization of local services, funding a property credit against the income tax and greater education investment.

So far, the 64-year-old cable company founder has poured more than $12 million into this race, his third run at a major higher office. He spent roughly $17 million of his money when he challenged U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. While Lamont won the primary, he lost the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent.

While Stefanowski has denied Lamont's accusations, he has also avoided discussing national and social issues on the campaign trail, arguing voters care more about jobs and the economy. He loaned his campaign roughly $3 million, portraying himself as "Bob the Rebuilder," a corporate fix-it expert who can turn around state government. Lamont, in turn, has criticized Stefanowski for recently running a payday lending company.

Griebel, meanwhile, has accused both major party candidates of falling short on specific ideas for tackling Connecticut's weighty financial problems. Besides large unfunded pension liabilities, the next governor will inherit a projected $2 billion deficit when he takes office in January. Griebel, a former Hartford chamber of commerce leader, banker and lawyer, has suffered from low name recognition, despite the endorsement of the Hartford Courant. The state's largest newspaper said the independent is "in the best position to get Connecticut unstuck."

"The spoilers in this race are the two major party candidates," said Griebel, who argues Lamont and Stefanowski will repeat the last 30 years of no net job growth, higher taxes and fees, under-investment in transportation, education and services for the most vulnerable.

Retired teacher Jean Gordon, 79, of Mystic, said she wants change in Connecticut, but is concerned by the lack of ideas and back-and-forth bickering.

"The accusatory things, it just isn't right," she said. "It doesn't get us anywhere



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