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Does Malloy re-election face a threat from the left?

By Dick Ahles

Publication: The Day

Published May 25. 2014 4:00AM

The specter of a real, trouble making, third party candidate for governor has risen.

There are always third parties around, taking votes from the two major parties or serving as a second line for one of them on the ballot. Usually they're not potent enough to raise a specter, defined as something "widely feared as a possible unpleasant or dangerous occurrence." But the mere mention of base-eroding Jonathan Pelto toying with the idea of running for governor is definitely unpleasant and possibly dangerous for incumbent Democrat Dannel Patrick Malloy.

The British spell the word "spectre" and define it as "a source of terror or dread," which is exactly what the pro-labor, liberal Pelto could evolve into for Malloy, who won by 6,000 votes the last time and isn't that popular anymore.

Pelto, a former legislator and aide to Gov. Bill O'Neill, says he isn't a spoilsport and wouldn't dream of running if it just meant the election of the Republican candidate. He insists he will only run if he thinks he has a chance of attracting enough disenchanted voters to win a three-way race.

That happened only once in Connecticut. In 1990, Lowell Weicker, a Republican, left the party after it deserted him in a Senate race and ran under the standard of A Connecticut Party. His third party won 40.4 percent of the vote to 37.5 percent for the Republican John Rowland and 20.7 percent for the Democrat Bruce Morrison.

Weicker, who was 83 last week, celebrated his birthday by reminding his old party that it's irrelevant. Its decline into irrelevancy, along with its corruption and the profligacy of the Democrats, have been disastrous for the state, Weicker wrote in The Hartford Courant.

"Whether the corruption of a Republican governor or the spending of the Democrats, the voter has been screwed," is how Weicker neatly sums up the recent contributions of both parties to the voters' well-being.

Which brings us back to Pelto. If he means it when he says he wouldn't want to elect a Republican by running, he won't run. His exploration will surely reveal he can't get elected but he can hurt the already vulnerable Malloy and make Weicker's former Republican Party suddenly relevant through no fault of its own.

But if he becomes dazzled at the prospect of having people paying attention to what he's saying between now and the first Tuesday in November, Pelto could delude himself into thinking he could win. That would be a problem and not only for Malloy.

The Working Families Party is one of those aforementioned third party front organizations that supposedly picks the best candidates to endorse but rarely, if ever, finds a Republican fitting that description. In a normal election, it would go through the motions of surveying the field and solemnly determine Malloy is the only candidate willing to serve the needs of working families. The Republicans have an equivalent in the Independent Party, which provided tens of thousands of votes for Tom Foley and Linda McMahon.

But if Pelto runs, does the Working Families Party stick with Malloy and the Democrats or does it endorse Pelto who could be a poster boy for the party's liberal/labor philosophy? If it wants to confirm the view that it's no more than a tool for the Democrats, it will stick with Malloy. If it doesn't, things could get messy.

As he was about to start exploring, Pelto pointedly remarked that there are 100,000 teachers union members who are disillusioned over Malloy's education reforms, which "effectively did away with tenure." Two years ago, in a regrettable burst of candor, Malloy did observe that all teachers need to do to earn tenure is to "show up for four years," but he has hardly done away with it.

But this slight hasn't been forgotten by the teachers and how it plays as Pelto goes exploring could determine a lot about the 2014 gubernatorial election. Even if a fraction of those 100,000 teachers are angry enough at Malloy to vote for Pelto, 2014 could be a bad year for Democrats, not to mention Working Families.

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