HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — His name will not be on the ballot, but Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is emerging as a key figure in this year's election as Republican legislative candidates in Connecticut take aim at the Democrats they claim "rubber-stamped" the governor's positions, including a state budget that increased taxes by $2.6 billion over two years.
Political mailers are now hitting voters' mailboxes that tie many incumbent Democratic lawmakers with the governor, said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. One asks, "Do you really want to give Governor Malloy another rubber stamp for his spending agenda?"
Cafero said the criticism is fair considering the Democratic-controlled General Assembly has helped Malloy to pass much of his agenda, such as mandatory paid sick leave, an early release credit program for inmates, repeal of the death penalty, same-day voter registration, and the legalization of medical marijuana.
"Now we're seeing the results of his plan that they rubber-stamped," Cafero said. "Now that they want to be sent back to Hartford, I think the public deserves to know that."
Malloy has suffered from lackluster poll numbers for much of his two-year tenure.
Malloy realizes his approach to solving the state's deficit, as well his positions on other issues, have not been universally embraced in Connecticut and that his support not be a plus for a candidate. Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser, said Malloy told the Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate that "if I can help you by being there, I will. If I can help you by not being there, I will."
Occhiogrosso said Malloy is "very realistic about what it takes to run a campaign" and isn't bothered that some Democrats might not welcome the public backing of the sitting governor.
"It would bother him if he had been making the decisions with his poll numbers in mind as opposed to doing what's the right thing to do," said Occhiogrosso, who says Malloy's favorability figures have hovered around 40 percent because he has made "some very tough decisions that haven't been made for a very long time in Hartford."
A Quinnipiac University Poll of 1,472 likely voters conducted Aug. 22-26 showed that 43 percent approved of the job Malloy was doing as governor, while 44 percent disapproved. The numbers were worse for the legislature, with only 33 percent of voters approving of the job they've done and 50 percent disapproving. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
Occhiogrosso said Malloy has been busy helping Democrats raise money. He's also been fielding requests from both House and Senate candidates for endorsements and pictures, although Occhiogrosso acknowledges that's "not to suggest there is a flood of people at his door."
He provided The Associated Press with more than a dozen names of candidates, both incumbents and newcomers, who Malloy has helped. On Tuesday, Malloy traveled to Greenwich to support three Democratic candidates, telling a crowd the state needs to think boldly and invest in education, infrastructure and work to attract businesses while cutting back where it's appropriate.
Malloy has also appeared at events to publicly support Democratic Senate candidate Chris Murphy and Democratic 5th Congressional District candidate Elizabeth Esty.
Lisa Romano, a Democratic state representative candidate in Newtown, said she asked Malloy to endorse her candidacy if she'd be an asset to the legislature. But she said the endorsement does not mean she would agree with everything he would say or do.
"I thought that having his support would be helpful, not on particular policies but recognizing my strengths as a candidate," she said.
Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said it's "bad strategy on the part of Republicans" to make this election a referendum about the governor, considering the difficult choices he has made. But ultimately, he said, this election cycle is about the legislative candidates.
"By and large, folks are concentrated on their own races and the issues that are important in their specific districts," he said. "When it comes right down to it, it's a question of who can be the best state senator, the best state representative, who is the one who is working hardest for the interest of their district. That's where I feel very confident that Democrats will do well."
Cafero maintains that Democrats don't want to talk about Malloy and his agenda on the campaign trail.
"They want to talk about everything but. This will not, unless forced to, mention Governor Malloy's name," he said. "They will never talk about unemployment. You will never see them talk about the budget. You'll never see them say we turned it around."
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