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Gov. Malloy and Joe Visconti Debate Without Tom Foley

NBC Connecticut

The penultimate televised debate before the gubernatorial election was marked by the absence of one of the main contenders. Republican Tom Foley chose not to attend the debate, although hosts NBC Connecticut said the invitation remained open right up until the debate began.

A symbolic third stool remained on the stage until minutes before the broadcast, and moderator Gerry Brooks referred to Foley as "the elephant who is not in the room." Brooks said the Foley camp had never articulated a particular objection to the debate format.

Democrat Dannel Malloy called Foley’s absence disrespectful, and in his closing remarks, he took the opportunity to endorse petitioning candidate Joe Visconti. 

"I respect Joe," Malloy said. "We may have disagreements, but at least he tells you what he's going to do. Tom Foley has been dancing around issues for many months now. If you believe that I was wrong about guns, then this is the guy, Joe Visconti, that you should be voting for. If you believe that I've been wrong on some of the other issues that Joe has talked about, then he's the person you should be voting for. Not Tom Foley, because he doesn't tell you what he really wants to do."

But for much of the debate, Malloy ignored Visconti's positions, and instead took the opportunity to attack Foley on a range of issues, including the negative tone of the campaign, economic policies, aid to cities and state spending.

"I have a different view of Connecticut than Tom Foley does," he said. "I believe our best days are ahead of us."

For his part, Visconti said he wanted to keep the focus on fiscal responsibility. He said both major candidates are failing to face up to projected budget deficits coming over the next three years. "We are going to have to cut services," he said. "We cannot run this state as a business, and we cannot run it as a charity. We're going to have to unload some of the great things we've been doing for decades, and we're going to have to look at what's essential: the disabled, the veterans, children, education, infrastructure."

The two debaters did tangle directly over gun control policy. Visconti repeated his criticisms of the law passed in the wake of the Newtown shooting, saying that gun owners in Connecticut had been blamed for the Sandy Hook tragedy. Malloy referred his personal experience of that day as he answered, saying, "I understand what a large capacity magazine means to a person who wants to kill as many people as he possibly can."

On schools policy, Visconti revealed that he has asked education reformer Jonathan Pelto to be his Education Commissioner if he's elected. The left-leaning Pelto ran for governor on a platform highly critical of Malloy's education reforms, but he failed to gather enough petition signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Moderator Brooks asked Visconti at one point if under any circumstances he would consider dropping out of the race and throwing his support to Tom Foley. "I don't believe at the present time I could help carry him over the finish line," said Visconti.

The latest polling from Quinnipiac University shows Malloy neck and neck with Foley at 43 and 42 percent. Visconti is polling at nine percent.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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