Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Tom Foley

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Tom Foley (Courant File Photos / August 31, 2014)

The fight for the Connecticut governorship between Republican Tom Foley and incumbent Democrat Dannel P. Malloy has generated significant national attention and, behind the curtain, attracted seasoned political operatives to both campaigns.

With early rounds of negative advertising already on the airwaves, these staffers are busy behind the scenes, shaping their candidate's message, gearing up for debates and looking ahead to November turnout strategy.

Malloy's staff has been ramping up for months in anticipation of a rematch with Foley, whom he barely beat four years ago. The slightly smaller Foley team is heavy with Connecticut political veterans and former staffers of one or both of Linda McMahon's U.S. Senate runs.

Malloy's Team

Malloy has assembled a staff of operatives with extensive and diverse resumes. As of the campaign's July 10 filing with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, eight of the 24 staffers listed had out-of-state addresses.

Mark Bergman, a top-level Malloy adviser, is not new to the state. He has experience over the past 10 years in Connecticut and across the country, working in both winning and losing races. He worked on the winning campaigns of Democrat Maggie Hassan for governor of New Hampshire in 2012, Democrat Brad Schneider for Congress in Illinois and U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney for re-election in Massachusetts. Bergman also was the press spokesman in losing Democratic races for governor in Pennsylvania and U.S. Senate in New Hampshire.

Bergman is an alumnus and former senior strategist for Mission Control, the progressive direct mail firm based in Mansfield that in the last decade has racked up a record of helping Democrats win elections. He also served as the campaign manager for Democrat Susan Bysiewicz, who lost in the August 2012 U.S. Senate primary to Christopher Murphy.

Another important voice in the Malloy campaign is Roy Occhiogrosso, a Malloy confidante who played a major role in the 2010 run and then spent two years as a top gubernatorial aide and Malloy's chief political strategist. This time around, the campaign is retaining Occhiogrosso and the New York-based consulting firm Global Strategy Group, where he is a managing director.

Before winning with Malloy in both the primary and the general election in 2010, Occhiogrosso was involved in numerous losing campaigns over a 15-year period. Those included unsuccessful races by Democrat Bill Curry for governor in 1994 and 2002, Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell for Congress against incumbent Republican Chris Shays, and U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in his loss to Greenwich upstart Ned Lamont in the August 2006 Senate primary.

Jonathan Blair, Malloy's campaign manager, has less in-state experience than his colleagues. But Blair is riding a winning streak after guiding the successful campaigns of U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly in Illinois last year and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich in 2012. In Illinois, Blair worked with Mission Control — Bergman's former employer and now a vendor for the Malloy campaign — and gained respect for his analytics-driven approach, which resulted in Kelly prevailing over a deep field to win the seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.

Bergman, who serves as the spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said the Malloy brass knows the race is close and has made recruiting top-level political talent a priority.

"Campaigns have to bring in the best talent, not only in Connecticut but across the country, to put together a winning campaign, to put together a winning message, and to put together a winning organization," Bergman said. "This campaign has tremendous experience in Connecticut elections."

One staffer with some state experience is Michael Mandell, a veteran of Malloy's 2010 campaign who went on to work as a legislative aide to the governor. Mandell accompanied Malloy on his 2012 trip to China, and when the incumbent Democrat hit the campaign trail earlier this month, Mandell was with him.

"Some people have a long-term relationship with the governor, some people don't," Bergman said. "It's [about] bringing the talent that you have and making sure it works together. That's our charge. That's the governor's charge. And we've done that."

Foley's Team

Democrats in Connecticut enjoy a large advantage in registered voters and dominate both chambers of the state legislature. Foley has had to recruit from a smaller pool of Connecticut Republican operatives to build his campaign.

He has turned to some of the state's political veterans.

Chris Cooper, Foley's communications director and a close adviser to the candidate, is a familiar face around the Capitol and at numerous state agencies. In 2010, Cooper worked on the losing gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Foley's primary opponent. Before that, Cooper was a spokesman for Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her predecessor, Gov. John G. Rowland. Earlier Cooper worked for two Democratic governors, William A. O'Neill and Ella T. Grasso.

It is fair, Cooper said with a laugh, to call him a veteran of state politics.

Another veteran, of Foley campaigns at least, is Justin Clark, the West Hartford attorney who ran Foley's operation in 2010 and is reprising his role this time around. Clark brings experience with both of McMahon's losing U.S. Senate bids, and at least a third of his staff on the Foley campaign has some McMahon experience.