The New Haven Independent sat down with Susan Bysiewicz and Dan Malloy recently, and the resulting article shows two politicians who seem much more focused on the task at hand than they were at this point in the 2006 cycle.
Then, of course, Dan Malloy’s campaign was suspended as he dealt with corruption allegations–he resumed the campaign upon receiving a clean bill of ethical health. Bysiewicz, on the other hand, was running a murky, unfocused race that never seemed to gain much traction. None of the candidates seemed especially willing to take shots at the incredibly popular Jodi Rell, at least not then (and Bysiewicz was prone to making some very Rell-like statements: see especially her quote here, in our newly reopened onsite archive, about how we ought to balance the state budget like reg’lar folks balance their checkbooks).
Now, however, both candidates seem far more ready to do battle with the governor. Bysiewicz, especially, seems to think she can change the game:
“I was very impressed with his performance during the debate,” Bysiewicz said of Destefano. But “you almost got the sense that he was holding back. He didn’t want to be seen as attacking ‘grandma.’”
“I don’t think,” Bysiewicz added, “that dynamic will be true if I’m the candidate.”
That’s a pretty naked assertion that what Bysiewicz brings to the table is her gender–which is something Rell’s opponents seemed to stumble over in 2006. It’s not the worst argument, and it suggests that Bysiewicz won’t back down from a confrontation with Rell.
Malloy, when asked why he thinks he can beat a popular incumbent governor, has this to say:
“At some point people are going to make a connection between what’s wrong with Connecticut,” he insisted, “and the person who’s been leading it as number one or number two [lieutenant] for the past 16 years.”
He sounds frustrated. And at some point, maybe he’ll be right, and people will pin the blame on the lousy state of affairs in Connecticut on Rell and other incumbents. That point wasn’t back in 2006, of course.
Will it come in 2010? Maybe.
The Incumbent Rule Redux
It’s worth dragging out the old incumbent rule again, just to see how it applies in this case. The incumbent rule, for those of you who missed it last time, is that all things being equal, voters tend to prefer incumbents. Simple and obvious. There are also some tried-and-true ways in which the rule is broken, and one of those is when, during an election cycle, some sort of external or internal crisis causes voters to break with the incumbent.
In Connecticut, in 2006, the incumbent had a huge advantage, not only because of her personal popularity, but because the state was not in crisis. In fact, Rell was seen as a solution to the previous state-level crisis, the saga of John Rowland. There was a continuing crisis on the national level, that of Iraq and the War on Terror in general, which caused voters to break with the GOP, but that crisis was not relevant to Connecticut’s state politics.
2010 could be very different. The economy is currently awful, and likely to get worse. By 2010, unemployment could be way up, state revenue could be down, and bold promises of tax-increase-free budgets could be a dim memory at best. How will this affect Jodi Rell?
So far, she’s weathered the crisis very well. The public still largely approves of her handling of the economic situation, though her critics claim she is far too reactive and not bold or creative enough in her leadership. She’s also managed to stay above the partisan fray to an extent, mainly by dismissing the dumber ideas of the GOP caucus and working, sometimes reluctantly, with Democrats.
But by 2010, with an active gubernatorial campaign in full swing and voters looking for someone to blame, Gov. Rell could find her standing drop rapidly. Think of how invincible Chris Dodd seemed a year ago. That’s how quickly things could change, if Rell is perceived as being ineffective. The crisis will cause voters to seek other options, and Rell’s incumbency advantage will evaporate. At that point, she’ll have to rely on her carefully crafted image and personal popularity with voters, both of which could be vulnerable to strong attacks from the Democrats.
Can Susan Bysiewicz, Dan Malloy or Jim Amann take advantage of this, should it happen? They sound like they’re ready to try, certainly. Malloy is trying to craft a clear alternative to Rell’s budget by insisting that taxes need to rise on the wealthiest, and both candidates say that the state needs to invest in infrastructure and health care, among other things.
Will the message resonate with crisis-weary voters in 2010? Will Rell find that being an incumbent is a liability instead of a strength? Will Democrats find a way to blow it again?
Bass, Paul. “Tough Enough To Tackle “Grandma”?.” New Haven Independent 3 March, 2009.