HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Senate Minority Leader John McKinney launched his bid for governor on Tuesday with an attack on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's handling of the state's economy, an issue likely to be a theme for the 2014 governor's race.
The eight-term Republican from Fairfield is the biggest name to formally join a field of GOP contenders that could include Greenwich businessman and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.
"By almost every measure, Gov. Malloy has taken Connecticut's economy in the wrong direction," said McKInney, the 49-year-old son of the late Republican 4th District Rep. Stewart B. McKinney.
McKinney took issue with a number of Malloy's initiatives, including multimillion-dollar loans and grants to businesses which he said disproportionately benefit large, multinational corporations over small businesses that create most of Connecticut's jobs. He also criticized Malloy's level of taxation, spending and borrowing, and accused the first-term governor of failing to address the state's long-term liabilities, including pension and health care benefits.
But Connecticut Democratic officials disagreed with McKinney's assertions, crediting the governor with helping to turn the state around economically.
"The governor has worked hard to grow the private sector and created more than 37,000 jobs," said April Capone, the state party's political director. "The public sector has shrunk and he has made investments in job creation, health care, education and affordable housing. Those investments are beginning to take hold. We are making progress."
As the 2014 governor's race begins to take shape, the state's economy is sure to be a key issue for Republicans. Malloy has not yet announced his candidacy.
A Quinnipiac University Poll last month showed about a third of registered voters approved of Malloy's handling of the state budget, taxes and the economy. Malloy still got high marks on leadership qualities, however.
"This election will be decided on the economy and Gov. Malloy's mismanagement of the same," said State Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola. "We continue to muddle along at the bottom of every economic statistic. Connecticut is a state of champions and we're tired of being in last place."
Boughton, who is running for re-election as mayor this November, said he has not yet decided whether to run for governor. But he said the ultimate Republican nominee must offer voters a positive vision for Connecticut and more than a criticism of Malloy's economic record.
"Anybody's record is open for discussion. But more importantly, if somebody is going to win this race other than Gov. Malloy, they're going to have to paint a picture of what Connecticut ought to be. ... If you just focus on the negative, we've seen that band play a number of times."
McKinney officially announced his candidacy, which was first reported by the Hearst Media Group, in a news release emailed to reporters.
McKinney said he was filing the necessary paperwork to start a candidate committee and begin collecting small contributions totaling $250,000 in order to qualify for the state's public campaign financing program.
Joseph Visconti of West Hartford, Gordon Ward of Manchester and Scott Merrell of Norwalk have already filed as Republican candidates for governor with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Last month, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, announced he would not run.
A graduate of Yale University and the University of Connecticut School of Law, McKinney practiced law at the Connecticut-based firm Cummings & Lockwood LLC before his election to the General Assembly. He also was a law clerk to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The father of three children has been the Senate Minority leader since 2007.
McKinney's legislative district includes Easton, Fairfield, Weston, Westport and Newtown. He played a key role in crafting a bipartisan package of gun control legislation this year in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
His support of various gun control measures, including background checks and an expanded assault weapons ban, brought him praise from gun control proponents and criticism from gun rights advocates. Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said McKinney would not get his group's support because the Republican was "instrumental in implementing a historic gun control law with zero consideration for the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners."