Voters in Connecticut’s gubernatorial election this November will face a familiar choice as Republican Tom Foley squares off against Democrat Dan Malloy. Four years ago, in a nail biter for what was then an open seat, Malloy won by 0.5 percentage points, or just 6,404 votes.
This time, Foley is counting on buyer’s remorse. The state faces 6.6 percent unemployment, above the national rate of 6.1 percent, and the economy is growing at a glacial 0.9 percent. Governor Malloy’s $1.5 billion tax hike didn’t help. Foley is capitalizing on voters’ frustrations and the governor’s unpopularity.
In a blue state like Connecticut, Democrats thought Malloy would easily defend his record. But he trails Foley—by 6 points in an early September Quinnipiac poll (46 to 40 percent) and by 7 points in a mid-August Rasmussen poll of likely voters (45 to 38 percent). GOP insiders say their internal polls yield comparable results.
“The top three issues are the economy, the economy, and the economy,” said Connecticut Republican chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., and 4 in 10 of the likely voters surveyed by Quinnipiac agreed. After jobs and the economy, government spending and taxes were their chief concerns, with voters preferring Foley over Malloy by 17- to 28-point margins on all three issues.
Foley, 62, a Greenwich businessman, makes much of Connecticut’s CNBC ranking of 46th in the nation in business competitiveness, a figure Malloy, 59, told reporters he was “still trying to wrap my arms around.” With the third-highest cost of living and the second-highest property taxes in the nation, it’s not surprising that 49 percent of Connecticut residents would move out of the state if they could, as a 2013 Gallup poll found.
Foley, a former ambassador to Ireland, prefers to outline broad policy proposals. But he has also released some specifics, including cutting the sales tax by 0.5 percentage points and holding spending flat for two years. He vows to review and potentially eliminate hundreds of onerous regulations, paperwork requirements, and taxes and allow school choice within districts.
What “business people want in order to pick a place to invest and grow is a friendly environment, a supportive environment,” Foley told me, adding, “That doesn’t really cost any money.” He sees Connecticut’s cities—some of which have unemployment as high as 13 percent—going bankrupt like Detroit if there isn’t a concerted effort to revitalize them. To this end, Foley has released an urban policy agenda targeting crime, housing, employment, education, and economic development.
Foley also attacks Malloy’s “corporate welfare” policies. The governor’s “First Five” initiative was originally projected to create about 2,200 jobs at a cost of $214 million in loans and grants to 11 big businesses. The most recent figures show that 6 companies have produced about half that number of jobs.
Democrats deny the race is only about the economy. They credit Malloy with achieving some of the left’s most prized goals: strict gun control measures after the Sandy Hook shooting, a $10.10 minimum wage by 2017, paid sick leave, collective bargaining rights for home health care workers, in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.
Like President Obama, the governor is quick to blame his predecessor for the state’s troubles. He says he “inherited” a $3.7 billion deficit from Republican Jodi Rell. He takes credit for balancing the budget, though his own numbers show the deficit will grow again starting next year. Devon Puglia, communications director for the state Democratic party, uses another Obama-like line: “Republicans are out there rooting for Connecticut to fail.”
And Malloy attacks Foley’s business career the way Obama criticized Mitt Romney’s. Recycling an accusation he used in 2010, the governor condemns the 1986 acquisition of failing textile company Bibb by Foley’s firm. After about a decade of significant growth, the Georgia-based company went through voluntary bankruptcy and Foley relinquished his CEO title and equity stake in Bibb. Two years later, Foley’s investment group sold Bibb, which the new owners eventually closed. Foley, in a response ad, touts his role in expanding Bibb and advertises his experience working on private sector development in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority.