HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has led the state through several natural disasters and the Newtown school massacre since his election in 2010, gaining high marks for his leadership and work ethic, but Connecticut voters are far from completely won over by the Democrat.

With the 2014 gubernatorial race beginning to take shape, Malloy is vulnerable to criticism about his support for hefty tax increases two years ago and presiding over a stubbornly slow economy. And it’s a weakness his Republican foes plan to capitalize on when courting voters.

Mike Rooney, a 64-year-old retiree from Glastonbury, is among those voters upset with Malloy’s handling of taxes, state spending and the economy. Asked whether Malloy’s leadership during the storms or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School improve his opinion of the first-term governor’s performance, Rooney said “definitely not.”

“He has initiated certain policies whereby he’s paying companies millions and millions and I don’t really see the bottom-line benefit, not by any means,” Rooney said Wednesday. “The economy is bad and he’s not helping. He’s not helping the business environment in Connecticut, taxes.”

But Malloy’s supporters contend the first Democratic governor elected in two decades has made a tremendous effort to attract new business, grow jobs and address the state’s longtime fiscal problems _ efforts that might not be immediately realized.

John Olsen, a former state Democratic Party chairman, likens Malloy’s situation to that of President Barack Obama, who faced re-election amid a difficult economy. Acknowledging “there’s a challenge,” Olsen said he believes Malloy is in a better position politically than Obama was even when he won and will pull off a victory after voters focus on the issues.

“I will say this about him. I’ve been around Connecticut politics a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate that works harder as a candidate,” Olsen said. “And I’d say this for him. As a governor, he’s the top governor for really working too. So this guy’s got a great work ethic. I would not sell him short if I were a Republican.”

A new Quinnipiac University Poll, released Wednesday, shows registered voters in Connecticut have a split opinion of Malloy, with 46 percent saying they view him favorably and 44 percent unfavorably. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of how he’s handling his job as governor, voters are evenly split _ 47 percent approve and 47 disapprove. Malloy’s job approval rating has hovered in the mid- to high 40th percentile for most of the past year.

Asked about Malloy’s handling of the budget, 35 percent approved while 55 percent disapprove. On taxes, 29 percent approve and 63 percent disapprove, while on the economy, 35 percent approve and 57 disapprove. But when asked if Malloy has strong leadership qualities, 57 percent said yes while 38 percent no.

Malloy appeared on television almost daily during Superstorm Sandy, the remnants of Hurricane Irene and a freak October snowstorm in 2011, taking utilities to task for lengthy outages. He also received widespread state and national coverage following the school shooting, comforting a grieving state and calling for tougher gun control laws.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, who is considering a run for governor, said he believes Malloy has been dogged by his economic record.

“During storms and certainly during Sandy Hook, he did exhibit excellent leadership when we all stood behind him as he lead us through those dark times,” Cafero said. “But people also know the economy is what keeps them here, it’s what keeps them employed, it’s what makes Connecticut a desirable place to live, and he gets low marks on that. And I think that’s coming to roost now in these polls and as we approach the election.”

In a hypothetical matchup, former Ambassador and businessman Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican candidate who narrowly lost to Malloy, would receive 43 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for Malloy. The Democrat, however, leads three other potential GOP challengers, including Cafero, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.

The telephone survey of 1,154 registered voters, conducted June 12-17, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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