Republicans could squander a golden opportunity to reclaim the governor's office unless they present a compelling, moderate vision to the hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated voters who will decide this year's election.
Anything is possible when the Democratic incumbent is a bull-in-the-china-shop politician who has raised taxes, irritated his base among organized public employees and has been rewarded with consistently modest job approval ratings after winning the governorship by only 6,000-some votes four years ago.
Further, the Democrat, Dannel P. Malloy, has had the misfortune of governing during an economic recovery that is sluggish despite his best efforts.
The chance to cash in on Mr. Malloy's misery despite the Republican Party's minority status in Connecticut is what's behind a veritable land rush of GOP politicians toward the starting gate.
The Many Contenders
This past week, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a six-term incumbent schooled in municipal government, as was Mr. Malloy, announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. In 2010, he was the running mate of Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, who carried the Republican banner in the nearly successful campaign against Mr. Malloy.
Mr. Foley has formed an exploratory committee and is considering another race for governor this year. His cause has not been helped by early mistakes, including accusing Mr. Malloy of ethical breaches without coming up with serious evidence.
Also in the Republican mix for governor are state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield, state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and former West Hartford council member Joe Visconti. More interest is likely.
To have the best chance of being elected governor in November, the Republican nominee, in addition to having a compelling vision, should be a moderate New England-style Republican and one who has survived the fires of a primary election.
Many establishment Republicans want the nomination settled at the convention. Party activists fear that primaries are costly and divisive. Certainly they can be both.
But primaries — Mr. Boughton says the GOP winner will be chosen in an August run-off — also show off a party's wares. They can identify candidates who, if nominated, might appeal to a broad swath of voters.
Republicans have only a little more than 400,000 registered voters in Connecticut. There are about 740,000 registered Democrats and some 840,000 unaffiliated voters. A nominee chosen only by activist bigwigs of the state's smallest bloc of registered voters starts with a disadvantage.
Further, Republicans need the exposure of a primary especially because their national brand has been tarnished by tea party influence from the far right.
Past elections tell us that Connecticut voters will put a Republican governor in the statehouse if she or he is moderate. M. Jodi Rell, John G. Rowland and former Republican-turned-independent Lowell P. Weicker — Connecticut's last three governors before Mr. Malloy — are the evidence of mainstream Republicanism.
That was the wise message — a return of the Republican Party to New England-style moderation — carried by Tom D'Amore, former Weicker adviser, state Republican chairman and political consultant, before he died Tuesday.
Mr. Malloy will be no pushover no matter who the Republican nominee turns out to be.
He has strong leadership skills. He's a tireless campaigner. He's a doer. He isn't afraid to tackle the toughest of problems, such as reforming public education, cutting retirement costs and beefing up state pension funds. He did a good job of balancing an inherited budget that was badly out of whack.
He has championed controversial loans and grants of state money to persuade businesses to locate or stay in Connecticut. Some have been questionable, but, hey, jobs weren't being created before he was elected.
But Republicans can make a very close race of it if they nominate the right candidate.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun