By SUSAN HAIGH
STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said Tuesday that Connecticut is one of the top two gubernatorial races in the country and GOP candidate Tom Foley needs to keep focusing on growing jobs and the state’s economy to win in November.
Appearing with the Greenwich businessman at a packed diner in downtown Stamford, the same city where Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was once mayor, Christie said the association intends to continue putting “significant time, energy and resources” into the tight rematch between Foley and Malloy. Christie said the RGA is also focusing on Illinois, where he was campaigning earlier in the day. He called both states “the two most important challenging races in the country.”
“I’m absolutely convinced that the people of Connecticut have some real regret from four years ago. They had a chance to get Tom Foley for governor four years ago. We came a little bit short,” Christie told the crowd. “I think they’ve seen what that has cost them over the last four years: lost jobs, higher taxes, bigger, more expensive government and less effective government.”
Christie, a frequent political sparring partner of Malloy’s, also headlined a fundraising event for the Connecticut Republican Party on Tuesday night.
Even though Foley and Malloy are participating in Connecticut’s public campaign financing program, which imposes strict funding limits, money is still playing a big role in the race. Both candidates are benefiting from outside groups that can spend money on the race but not directly coordinate with the candidates.
The RGA has so far contributed about $2.1 million to Grow Connecticut Inc., a political action committee supporting Foley. Grow Connecticut has used the money to buy a series of TV ads criticizing Malloy, focusing heavily on his economic record, including raising taxes. Christie said that focus helps Foley and hurts Malloy.
“I’m from New Jersey. I understand what it’s like to be a Republican running in a state like this. You don’t expect this to be a blowout. It’s not going to be a blowout,” he said. “But let me tell you something. If you’re Dan Malloy, you’ve had four years for the people to watch you, and you’re losing in a blue state like Connecticut? That’s trouble.”
On the Democratic side, the Democratic Governors Association is helping to fund the PAC known as Connecticut Forward Inc., which so far has raised about $2.5 million. Besides the DGA, organized labor has also made sizable contributions to the political action committee. Last week, AFSCME dumped $900,000 into the group’s coffers while the American Federation of Teachers gave $250,000.
Connecticut Forward is also running TV ads, criticizing Foley’s record as a businessman, as well as his campaign appearance in Sprague where he found himself at odds with a group of workers at Fusion Paperboard who were losing their jobs.
Malloy and his supporters have criticized Foley for embracing Christie, who they contend has a poor economic record in New Jersey and has cut public services.
“Bringing Governor Christie to Connecticut and championing his destructive policy goes to show just how out of touch Tom Foley is with the concerns of working and middle-class families here,” said Sal Luciano, executive director of Council 4 AFSCME.
Christie’s visit was also marked by protests from gun control advocates, who are angry he vetoed a bill in New Jersey limiting the size of ammunition magazines.
About 75 people stood in a park outside Curley’s diner chanting, “I vote gun safety.” Katherine Morosky, who lives in Newtown where the 2012 school shooting occurred, was among those on hand. She said she’s concerned about Foley’s position on gun control. While he has criticized the state’s new law, Foley said he won’t actively work to repeal it.
“It just sounds like that’s pandering to whoever he can possibly pander to by being someone who’s not interested in having a real position on an issue that, to me, is about keeping my family safe,” she said.