HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's opponents jumped on the governor's newest campaign commercial on Monday for featuring the Newtown tragedy and using a disputed number to describe the state's debt situation.
Released on Monday morning, the 30-second television advertisement focuses on Malloy's experience in dealing with crises, including Hurricane Sandy and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Malloy's crisis management has emerged has a central platform of his re-election bid.
The spot features Malloy, a narrator and two other voices. Milford Mayor Ben Blake credits Malloy for his response to Hurricane Sandy, and Newtown resident Nicole Hockley says that Malloy "has the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing." Hockley lost her son, Dylan, at Sandy Hook.
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The rest of the commercial focuses on Malloy's championing of new gun laws in Connecticut and on the claim, which Malloy and Republicans have argued about before, that the governor has "cut $12 billion in long-term debt."
On Monday afternoon, as the ad began to hit the airwaves in a $180,000 ad buy in three markets, Republicans hammered Malloy for a number of issues, including the commercial's use of crises to bolster Malloy's image.
"In his latest attempt to distract voters from his abysmal record on jobs and his failure to grow Connecticut's economy, Governor Malloy manages to exploit both the Newtown tragedy and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy for political gain," state Republican Party Chair Jerry Labriola Jr. wrote in a statement.
But Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said that Hockley asked to help the governor's re-election bid.
"[Malloy's] record is an important part of this campaign. Nicole Hockley reached out to us and told us she wanted to do everything possible to help get Gov. Malloy reelected," Bergman wrote. "It was a generous offer on her part, and we're honored to have her support."
Debt Claims Debated
Malloy's opponents challenged the governor's claim that he has wiped out $12 billion in long-term debt. That figure refers to projections released by Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget chief. In a report January 2014 report, Barnes wrote that Malloy's restructuring of the state's labor contracts netted Connecticut $11.6 billion in future savings.
Foley called the debt calculation "Malloy Math."
"We've been talking for over nine months about the governor's claim that he's reduced long-term obligations, which is simply untrue," Foley said Monday. "All he's changed is an accounting assumption, and without that change, debt under the governor's watch has actually increased."
The state has two categories of debt. One type, bonded debt, is worth about $20.8 billion and represents the money the state already has borrowed and already owes. The other type, soft debt, represents state pension and long-term health care costs, two areas where the state reached a new agreement with its employees under Malloy. During the Malloy administration, the bonded debt has grown slightly and the soft debt has decreased.
The accounting device referred to by Foley and other Republicans has to do with the Malloy administration's treatment of bond discount rates, which impact the valuation of long-term debt obligations. During the Malloy administration the discount rate has gone up, but the hard value of the rate change has been disputed, with various analysts reaching different conclusions.
In a statement Monday night, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said that the governor was relying on independent projections, not partisan numbers.
"The projections — which were made by an independent actuary, not the governor — reflected that the state for the first time ever began to require that all employees contribute to their retiree healthcare benefits and committed to matching those employee ... contributions," Doba said. "This was done because we needed to cut overall debt, and that's exactly what it has accomplished."
New Foley Ad
Foley also had a new ad out Monday. In the spot, he reiterated pledges to hold spending flat for two years, provide tax relief for families, make the state more business-friendly and invest in education.
With the race swirling in numbers — last week, a Courant report refuted Republican claims about Malloy's transportation record — national pollsters also have started to weigh in. Many have released polls that assume a Foley win over underdog Fairfield Sen. John McKinney in the Aug. 12 GOP primary and then a Foley-Malloy rematch in the fall. Most analysts, including Real Clear Politics and the Rothenberg Political Report, are calling that race a toss-up.
The Cook Political Report, another respected election analysis outlet, still has the racing leaning towards Malloy, but its website says the race will probably move into the "toss-up" category if Foley wins the primary.
While Foley's team has pointed out the Republican's surge in some polls, Malloy has alternated between dismissing the online survey that had Foley ahead and referring reporters to his policy against commenting on polls. Last week on MSNBC, Malloy said that he thinks the race is a dead heat.
"I think it has been quite frankly [a dead heat] since we ran the last time," Malloy said on the cable network's morning show. "I don't think it's changed at all. That's where it ended. That's where it will begin after the Republicans have their primary."
McKinney has largely been left out of the polling bonanza. No authoritative poll of the Foley-McKinney race has been released in months, and in March a Quinnipiac University survey had Foley over McKinney by more than 30 percentage points.
Though the Republican slot on the Nov. 4 ticket will be decided on Aug. 12, two candidates are trying to petition onto the November ballot. Jonathan Pelto, who worked for Malloy in 2010 but has now set out to challenge him as a member of the new Education and Democracy Party, and former West Hartford Town Councilor Joe Visconti, a Republican, have said they have the signatures required to make the ballot. Those names are due to local town halls by Aug. 6.
Capitol Bureau Chief Christopher Keating contributed to this story.