HARTFORD -- Since losing the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Dannel P. Malloy has never stopped running for governor, even after his whisker-close victory over Greenwich millionaire Tom Foley in 2010.
Throughout his nearly 3½ years in office, the governor's daily public schedule has sent him all over the state, visiting farmers in Shelton, the fragile coastline in East Haven, power projects in Bridgeport, reconverted factories in his hometown of Stamford.
It's a never-ending string of public appearances, seven days a week. On Saturday morning, he'll run in the second annual Newtown 5K road race to benefit a Sandy Hook Elementary School charity.
So it comes as no surprise to political observers -- and the six Republicans jockeying to topple him -- that Malloy accelerated his own time schedule by six weeks on Friday, finally admitting offhandedly to Capitol reporters that he and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will seek a second, four-year term.
Malloy blurted out the inevitable at the end of a regular news conference that follows the monthly meeting of the State Bond Commission, which he controls and which approved about $35 million in grants and loans that state taxpayers will pay off through long-term debt.
"Nancy and I have talked about the race and we both reached mutual conclusions that we should go to the people of the state of Connecticut and ask them for their support to continue the work that we have been undertaking for the last 3.6 years and we're very happy to announce today that we will begin that work, but nothing will change with respect to our approach to finishing the session or doing the hard work of passing important legislation," Malloy said.
The wide-open atrium of the Legislative Office Building, where dozens of Capitol employees, lobbyists and visitors stood watching the news conference, echoed with applause upon the announcement.
For weeks, Malloy had said he would reveal his future plans after the legislative session ends May 7, a week before the Democratic state convention.
A minute after his seemingly spontaneous announcement, Malloy's campaign sent emails trumpeting the news and asking for contributions, signaling the official start of fundraising.
Malloy is committed to raising $250,000 in individual contributions of $100 or less to leverage millions in public financing. "It's a lot of work to raise $250,000 in small allotments and let the work begin," he said, ending the news conference.
But Friday was an excellent occasion to lift the veil. During a national TV show that morning, Malloy, 58, beat around the bush when asked if he would run again. It didn't take Connecticut reporters very long to bring up the issue, yet again, as they had for months. He first deferred the question, then circled back to it.
"I'm looking at some of the things other candidates are saying and I want to be able to hit the ground in May when the session is over," he said.
On Thursday, Malloy signed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 over three installments, topping out Jan. 1, 2017. In a symbolic return to the scene of President Barack Obama's recent visit to Connecticut, Malloy chose the same New Britain restaurant that the president selected to illustrate the need to raise more people out of poverty.
"(Friday's) announcement allows Gov. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Wyman to formally launch their fundraising efforts while also taking advantage of the monumental decision to adopt the highest minimum wage in the country," said Khalilah Brown-Dean, assistant professor of political science at Quinnipiac University. "The high level of bipartisan support among voters for increasing that wage will prove to be a key electoral hurdle for the Republican challenger."
Pollsters also say the minimum wage is a great issue with women, particularly for the Democratic Party nationally, which is still reeling from the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, although Connecticut AccessHealth CT is among the most successful health exchanges in the nation.
At this point, with the recent Quinnipiac University Poll showing him in a tie with Republican Tom Foley, Malloy has been using the free exposure of news reports to keep his appearances in full public view. The poll also showed a 48-percent approval rating among state voters that only passes the magical 50-percent threshold after adding the 2.3 percent margin of error.
Republican hopefuls who will be sorted out during the GOP's convention in mid-May -- the same weekend as the Democratic state convention -- include Foley, who lost by 6,404 votes in 2010; Senate Minority Leader John McKinney; Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti; former failed attorney general candidate Martha Dean; and Joseph Visconti.
Gary L. Rose, chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said the major indicator that Malloy would seek re-election was the lack of movement among other potential Democratic candidates preparing for the May 16 party convention in Hartford.
"The word was out among the party that he was in the groove for another term," Rose said in a phone interview. "I think that he got a little shaken up by the last poll. I know McKinney, Foley, Boughton started to hammer on him. Now's the time to start rebutting and campaigning. So I think the polls and top-tier Republicans forced him to declare a little earlier."
Case in point: McKinney charged that for months, Malloy has been raising money from state contractors "and politically connected friends" across the country. "The governor's announcement was expected and anti-climactic," McKinney said in a statement.
"What is most fitting, if not ironic, is that the governor chose to make his announcement in front of the state bond commission, the very vehicle he has exploited over the past three years to pick winners and losers, run up state debt, and increase borrowing to unprecedented levels. This is one of the reasons Connecticut cannot afford four more years of Dan Malloy," McKinney said, stressing that last year Malloy borrowed more money than any governor in Connecticut's history.
"I understand why he deliberated so long before announcing," Boughton said in a phone interview. "If I had his record I wouldn't run."
Boughton, a former state legislator and failed lieutenant governor running mate with Foley in 2010, said Malloy had a "unique opportunity" in 2010 when he reopened contracts of unionized state workers.
"Instead, he punted the ball," Boughton said. "He owed his election to the advocates and special-interest groups he was negotiating with."
Lauretti also blasted Malloy.
"I'm not surprised that the governor announced today," Lauretti said in a phone interview. "Where else is he going to go? I don't know who'd hire him in private business. He can't quit his day job unless he gets something else."
Jerry Labriola, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, said Friday that Malloy is presiding over one of the worst economies in the nation, with an unemployment rate higher than the national average.
"Gov. Malloy faces a difficult challenge over the next eight months as he tries to run on a record that includes the largest tax hike in state history, $3 billion in spending increases and an economy that continues to stagnate," Labriola said. "Voters know that Connecticut can't afford four more years of Dan Malloy."
James Hallinan, most recently spokesman for state Democrats and now a Malloy spokesman, quickly countered.
"As usual, Jerry's orbiting in his own galaxy," Hallinan said. "Meanwhile, back on Earth ... Since Gov. Malloy took office, over 50,000 private sector jobs have been created, the state budget is balanced, there's a surplus, and money's been put in the Rainy Day Fund. Additionally, the minimum wage has been raised, more than 170,000 people have signed up for quality, affordable health care, pre-K is being expanded and college is being made more affordable."
The 2014 gubernatorial race is on.
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