In a speech to the Danbury Rotary Club on Wednesday, Governor Jodi Rell laid out a framework for her upcoming campaign, and took a moment to attack her rivals.
"I've tried to set a new tone in Connecticut to make people proud to call Connecticut home again," Rell told the Danbury Rotary Club. "We have turned the corner to bring integrity to state government."
Rell went on to talk about how she and legislators passed a state budget without the need for a special session, pushed through the largest transportation package in more than 20 years and devoted $100 million over the next 10 years to stem cell research.
Further, in a counter-attack she'll likely use against Democratic critics in next year's campaign, Rell accused potential opponents of being too negative. "Some say everything is wrong in Connecticut and the sky is falling," Rell said. "Those who see only the worst of Connecticut are not destined to lead the state to its best." (Lucas)
Now, John DeStefano and Dan Malloy are hardly "those who see only the worst of Connecticut," (DeStefano, especially, has tried to run a peppy, upbeat campaign), but voters don't know that. Rell is defining them before they have a chance to define themselves. This is a classic incumbent tactic, and one that worked very well for George Bush last year.
It doesn't help that DeStefano's big media moment this summer centered around the release of a campaign DVD with a somewhat negative portrayal of Rell, and that in general the only times either challenger made the news was when he was attacking the governor (the recent flap over illegal immigrants and ID cards in New Haven is an exception, but that didn't exactly help DeStefano either).
Malloy and DeStefano shot back with accusations of their own:
"Telling the truth is not negative, it's realistic," said Malloy.
"John Rowland didn't want anyone to criticize his ethics. Jodi Rell doesn't want anyone to criticize her record. Neither hold up to scrutiny," DeStefano said. (Lucas)
Whether voters will be willing to scrutinize the popular Rell's record in the face of a relentlessly positive campaign is far from certain. In fact, this brings to mind another "reform" candidate who ran positive campaigns...
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan dubbed his upbeat campaign "Morning in America." Rell... might well have called her speech "Morning in Connecticut." (Lucas)
Lucas's comparison is fascinating. I could spend a lot of time dissecting it, but all I'll say for now is that while the two have somewhat divergent philosophies, they may attract the same kind of following. We saw Reagan Democrats: will we see Rell Democrats? It's possible. She has over 60% approval with Democrats, according to the last SurveyUSA poll.
This analogy leaves poor Malloy or DeStefano to play Carter and/or Mondale. Not a pleasant thought. They can take solace in the fact that she won't have nearly as much of a monetary edge as Reagan did over his challengers, if she has one at all. They'll have plenty of opportunities to get their message out.
So here's the game plan as it stands for next year: Democrats are going to try to convince voters that Connecticut is in crisis, and that a leadership change is necessary. The governor will then attempt to annihilate them with sunshine. Looking forward to it.
Lucas, Fred. "Rell Ready to Run." Danbury News-Times 6 October, 2005.