Democratic governor's race heats up
For Ned Lamont, it's not 2006 anymore.
The millionaire Greenwich businessman announced his gubernatorial candidacy Tuesday morning in the Old Statehouse in Hartford, in a far different climate than when he became the darling of his party's liberal wing by taking on Sen. Joe Lieberman over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Now, Lamont likely will be squared off against Dannel Malloy, the former longtime mayor of Stamford, with three long shots weighing their own candidacies. And the dominant issues are economic ones -- how to reinvigorate Connecticut's struggling economy and plug a daunting state budget gap.
Lamont's 2006 bid for the U.S. Senate seat gives him formidably strong name recognition among party voters. But Malloy, as a former mayor, has more experience in government, and he's already shown his willingness to go on the offensive against Lamont.
Neither is likely to be intimidated by the other's candidacy. "They're both the kinds of people who don't tend to worry when people say `You can't do this,' " said Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden.
Lamont won the battle but lost the war in 2006, as Lieberman beat him in the general election running as an independent. The name recognition Lamont earned through that race remains perhaps his most valuable political asset.
"He's got a certain grassroots following that might be there for him again," McLean said.
But many of the tactics that worked for Lamont in the first leg of the Senate race likely won't work for him as he pursues the governor's post, experts said. For one thing, one of Lamont's key campaign issues in the senatorial race was an opposition to the Iraq War. That stance won't give him much traction in the governor's contest, McLean said.
During the Senate race, McLean said, Lamont positioned himself as a "vessel" for those not in favor of the war. "And, right now, what it looks like is that he's the vessel of his own best interests," McLean said.
Lamont also ran as an "outsider" in his race against Lieberman, pitching himself as an alternative to the political establishment. That's a strategy some doubt will work in the governor's race.
With no incumbent -- no "establishment" -- to run against, this tactic is unlikely to be effective for Lamont, Greenberg said.
Greenberg said Malloy's time as a mayor gives him an edge as a candidate claiming to already have shown the experience to manage in tough economic times.
And McLean said that Malloy's old-school approach to politics, getting out, pressing the flesh and being seen in public as much as possible, may prove to be effective in a contest where party convention delegates are the first prize. "He just seems to be everywhere," McLean said of Malloy. "He shows up at everything. You like to see someone with that sort of dogged determination win."
A successful telecommunications entrepreneur, Lamont has said he's willing to spend his own money on his campaign. He points to the likelihood that wealthy Republican gubernatorial hopeful Tom Foley, if he gets the GOP nomination, is likely to do the same. Malloy and other gubernatorial hopefuls have chastised Lamont for that decision.
"It's certainly an issue Malloy could campaign on," Greenberg said. "He can argue that Lamont is trying to buy the office." But McLean said he isn't sure whether that would be a smart strategy for Malloy. "It's hard to know how that would play out," McLean said. "(Voters) don't seem to disapprove of millionaires running for office." In fact, the tactic could actually work against Malloy. "Malloy has to be careful of not playing this as if he's whining and complaining to the referees," McLean said.
The first key contest for the Democrats comes at the Connecticut Democratic State Convention, held May 21 and 22 at the Connecticut Expo Center in Hartford. Candidates will vie for the party's endorsement, which comes with the majority support of the convention delegates. However, any candidate who gains the support of 15 percent of the delegates earns a spot in the Democratic primary.
In addition to Malloy and Lamont, those interested in the Democratic nomination include Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi and health-care advocate Juan Figueroa.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said her party is looking for a gubernatorial candidate willing to tackle the state's economic troubles and who can show strength of character.
"We need someone with leadership and a vision," she said.
It's not a job for the faint of heart, McLean said, pointing out that Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who would have been a clear favorite, chose not to seek re-election. "Nobody wants to be governor, really," McLean said. "It's not a good time to be governor of this state. Our own governor doesn't want to be governor."