OP-ED | Obama Visit a Political Bonanza for Malloy
The traveling circus that is a visit from the President of the United States arrived in town this week, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got to play the ringleader. It’s nice work, if you can get it, and it was the highlight of one of the better political weeks the governor has had.
Malloy, fresh off his extremely beneficial public spat with Gov. Bobby Jindal, started the week off with mixed but not necessarily horrible news from a Quinnipiac Poll. The headline was that he’s tied with Tom Foley (still), but that’s hardly a surprise. The real bad news is that Foley still far outpaces all his Republican rivals, meaning there probably won’t be a close-fought, messy, distracting primary in which someone like Mark Boughton does all of Malloy’s work for him for a few months.
The good news is that people really like the idea of raising the minimum wage, which was what Malloy had fought with Jindal over last week, and what had brought President Obama to New Britain on Wednesday. Some 71 percent supported raising the wage, and 48 percent said doing so would help the economy as opposed to 27 percent who said it would hurt. Malloy led a contingent of New England governors (absent Maine and New Hampshire) who backed the president’s call for a hike in the minimum wage at what looked and felt like a campaign rally at CCSU in New Britain.
The really good news was a presidential visit that produced plenty of photo ops of the president eating at Café Beauregard in downtown New Britain, a new restaurant that pays its four workers above the minimum wage, and no negative stories of traffic tie-ups, protests, or other nightmares. There were some traffic issues, sure, and there were a few protestors, but the whole thing looked more like a rolling party than a political event.
The politics of presidential visits are always a little risky, since there’s always the chance that the country or your state is about to turn against the commander-in-chief, leading to plenty of grainy photos of the governor and the president on opposition direct mail pieces. Gov. M. Jodi Rell was well aware of this, and tended to avoid George W. Bush whenever he came back to the state of his birth. Obama’s on the downslide these days around here, believe it or not. Malloy’s approval rating was actually higher than Obama’s for the first time ever, though you wouldn’t know it from the enthusiastic reception the president received downtown and from the students at CCSU.
The chances of a federal minimum wage hike are slim at best. The House isn’t about to go for it, especially after a damning CBO report suggested that up to 500,000 jobs would vanish should the president get his way. No amount of feel-good romping around a liberal northeastern state is going to change their minds.
So what was he doing here?
In part, he was showing his appreciation for Malloy’s willingness to step up to the plate on this issue, and in part he was trying to paint the Republicans as out-of-touch for opposing a wage hike that huge majorities of Americans favor on the friendliest possible turf. Obama was also here to generate enthusiasm, which in political speak means getting people so excited that they donate money to your campaign or party.
What Malloy is hoping is that the president had such a good time that he comes back in late October. A surge of voters generated by Obama’s visit to Bridgeport helped carry Malloy over the top in 2010, and if this race is anything near as close as that one was he’ll need all the help he can get. Malloy also wanted to be seen as the standard-bearer for the popular minimum wage increase. Tom Foley may have taken some of the wind out of his sails by agreeing that the minimum wage should be raised, but it’s still Malloy’s issue.
All of this leaves the governor in decent, if somewhat precarious, position for what was always going to be a tough re-election year. His numbers, as a follow-up poll released Thursday said, are still terrible in some key areas. Only 33 percent think he’s doing a good job on the economy, which is by far the voters’ top priority. He also scored poorly on taxes and the budget.
However, because with this governor there’s usually a silver lining somewhere, he scored well on his handling of snowstorms. We’ll see if anyone remembers when the fall comes around.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.