Published November 08. 2012 4:00AM
One of the biggest winners of Tuesday's election was arguably someone who was not even on the ballot - Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
In an effort to try to gain some seats in a legislature dominated by Democrats, Republican Party leaders organized their strategy around attacking the fiscal policies of the Malloy administration as approved by the governor's fellow Democrats in the House and Senate. In debates and campaign mailers, Republican House and Senate candidates kept reminding what they assumed to be angry voters about the $1.5 billion in annual tax increases (77 different taxes and fees went the claim, using some creative math) enacted to address the fiscal crisis and get the budget back in balance.
By extension, Republicans were campaigning against the Malloy policy of tax increases and budget cuts to bring fiscal order to the state.
But if there was anger, it never manifested itself in helping elect Republicans.
Democrats will retain 22 of 36 seats in the Senate. Democrats also appeared to at least maintain their 99-52 dominance in the House of Representatives, and could potentially pick up a seat or two based on the outcome of a couple of too-close-to-call races.
Part of this outcome is attributable to strength at the top of the ticket, with President Obama capturing about 60 percent of the vote in Connecticut, Sen.-elect Chris Murphy 55 percent and, in eastern Connecticut, incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney 67 percent.
Still, if outrage over the Malloy/Democratic legislature's policies was as palpable as Republicans seemed to think, one would have expected to see the GOP pick up a few seats.
In an email to me, Gov. Malloy's senior policy advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, offered the administration's take on the results.
"I think the lesson for Democrats in the House and Senate going forward is that it's OK to support the governor's agenda, even the tough choices that are a part of it. Voters might not like some pieces of the agenda, but they appear to understand that these tough choices are the ones that need to be made," Mr. Occhiogrosso wrote.
He was also happy to point out this pre-election gem from Sen. John McKinney, Senate minority leader: "The Democrats can try to run away from the governor as much as they want. I don't know one Democrat who wants this to be a referendum on the governor, but it is. In the first two years the Democrats gave this governor everything he wanted."
If it was a referendum, Mr. Occhiogrosso said, the governor won. It's hard to argue with that logic.
In his election coverage, The Connecticut Mirror reporter Keith M. Phaneuf notes that the large majorities retained by the Democrats will give them the 60 percent vote necessary in the House and Senate to exceed the constitutional spending cap, should the governor declare fiscal "exigency," in other words, a budgetary emergency.
But the governor should be careful not to overplay his hand as the legislature confronts what are sure to be more fiscal challenges in the last two years of his four-year term. The state's economic recovery has lagged behind much of the rest of the country. Voter patience will have a limit. And we suspect the public would not greet with open arms further tax-increase proposals.
Next time Gov. Malloy will not have to read any election tea leaves. He will be at the top of the ticket. That will be the truest referendum on the governor's performance and the next two years will determine how it goes.