Veteran state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton -- whose 26th District includes most of Westport -- threw the first curveball of the political season Tuesday, announcing she is exploring a run for governor in 2014, not lieutenant governor as had been widely believed.
In her trademark red suit, the Republican returned to her childhood home of Naugatuck for her announcement.
"Connecticut is in serious trouble, very serious trouble," Boucher said. "Now, thanks to the irresponsible policies of one-party rule, our economy ranks dead last."
Trying to distinguish herself from the all-male GOP field of gubernatorial contenders, most of whom have deep pockets, Boucher, 63, reminisced about growing up as an Italian immigrant in the blue-collar Naugatuck Valley.
She spoke no English and her father was a janitor when the family moved here, said Boucher, a deputy minority leader in the state Senate.
"As you can see, I didn't come from a great deal of wealth," said Boucher, who plans to seek taxpayer funding for her campaign should she run for governor.
Boucher said $1.6 billion in concessions from state employee unions negotiated by Malloy have failed to materialize and that the first-term governor raided the Transportation Fund to help balance the budget.
Democrats say Boucher's voting record contradicts her populist narrative and mentioned that she has opposed increasing the minimum wage, providing businesses with incentives to hire unemployed combat veterans and creating health insurance exchanges central to the Affordable Care Act.
"I guess the one thing that the GOP has going for them is that all four of their candidates are out of touch with the middle class," said Jonathan Harris, executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party.
Boucher, also a former Wilton selectmen, did not set a timetable for making a decision.
"You know I would not put myself through this and bring you all here if I wasn't serious," Boucher said when asked if she would settle for being someone's running mate in 2014.
State GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., a Naugatuck native, made a cameo appearance at Boucher's announcement in a gazebo on the town green.
"She has a great story," Labriola said. "She's a self-made, successful businesswoman and she's combined that with a distinguished career in public service."
While he posed for a photo with Boucher, Labriola pledged to remain neutral in the GOP nominating contest.
"I know, you want to be agnostic," said Boucher, who is a director at Commonfund, an endowment and pension asset management firm based in Wilton.
Boucher joins Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as GOP candidates who have formed exploratory committees for the state's highest office.
State Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, whose 28th District includes a small part of Westport, declared his candidacy for governor in July. Republicans are still waiting on Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee, to enter the race.
The state Elections Enforcement Commission gives potential candidates flexibility to explore running for multiple offices -- from state treasurer all the way up to governor -- without designating a specific post.
Elected to the state Senate in 2008 after serving in the state House for a dozen years, Boucher has devoted her legislative career to education reform and publicly opposed Malloy concerning the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
Boucher, who left the Campania region of Italy for the U.S. when she was 5, would not be the first Italian-born politician to hold statewide office. Michael Fedele, a fellow immigrant running for Stamford mayor, served as lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011.
Boucher embraced her heritage during her announcement.
"I make a mean tomato sauce, fresh and homemade," she said.