WASHINGTON – Connecticut Governor John Rowland "is not Beelzebub," according to his Democratic opponent, but he's not winning any praise from state Democratic Party officials.
Rowland, who is running for his third term, was liberal activist Ned Coll's object of derision during the July 13 Democratic State Nominating Convention in Hartford and hasn't heard much backtracking from the party since.
During an invocation, Coll, currently an official with the Revitalization Corporation of Hartford and a former opponent in the gubernatorial race between Rowland and Democratic candidate Bill Curry, called the governor names like "snake."
"I can say with a clear conscience that Governor Greed is the worst conceivable governor I have ever seen in this state," Coll said. "Death to the Prince of Darkness! ... This guy is a glorified thug. He's about as honest as his eyes. When you take a look at John Rowland's eyes, be careful you don't regurgitate."
Connecticut Republicans called the statements venomous and have sought a retraction from the Democrats for the personal attacks on the governor.
The comments are "disgusting, absolutely the most vicious and repulsive thing I've ever heard in a campaign," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris DiPino.
Curry has denied having anything to do with Coll's statements and said Coll was warned before the invocation not to stray from the script, which did not include derogatory comments about the incumbent.
"We are absolutely convinced the governor is not Beelzebub. We are convinced that he is not the living Satan. You cannot find personal language about any opponent I've ever run against," Curry told Fox News.
"Mr. Coll is not a spokesperson," he added.
After national Republican party entreaties, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman issued a statement this week saying "such vicious personal attacks have no place in our political discourse, let alone in a religious invocation."
But DiPino was not impressed with Curry's lighthearted response or Lieberman's six-week delay in his response.
"They continue to make light of a very serious issue," he said. "These people have hate in their hearts."
While Coll was unavailable for comment, state Democratic Party Chairman John Olsen did not express much remorse.
"I would like an apology for a load of things (the Republicans) have done. I've asked and I got 'Oh, oh I was joking.' Well, maybe Ned Coll will say that," Olsen said.
With the primaries scheduled for Sept. 10, Curry is expected to beat out state Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen and head to a rematch with Rowland, who defeated Curry in a 1994 head-to-head race for the governor's seat.
But while reducing Rowland's double-digit lead in the past six months, Curry still trails far behind in a general election matchup.
Rowland, who started in Connecticut politics at the age of 23 when he was elected to the state House, won in 1994 after promising to repeal retiring independent Gov. Lowell Weicker's 4.5 percent income tax increase. He did cut the tax in part, but not entirely.
On his list of accomplishments, Rowland brags of securing more than $2 billion in tax cuts since 1995 and tax rebate checks that were issued to Connecticut citizens in 1998 and 1999. DiPino lists Rowland's top issues as homeland security, taxes, government spending and revitalization, all of the highest importance to Connecticut voters.
"The governor has A's in all of those categories," said DiPino.
But Connecticut Democrats grade the governor much lower on those issues. Olsen said that Rowland had misspent a great deal of money, leaving the state in debt. Indeed, the fiscal year is expected to be $350 billion out of balance.
"He was taking in revenue from two new casinos and squandered the opportunity," Olsen said.
"Connecticut is the most indebted state in the nation," said Curry, who boasts of his own reputation as a "fiscal watchdog" while working as state comptroller from 1990 to 1994.
Democrats also question the tax cut Rowland ran on eight years ago. Olsen said that the state makes more revenue off of income tax now than it did in 1994. He said that the state surplus was largely from the state income tax.
Curry said it's those questions that have reduced Rowland's 28-point lead in February polls to a 17-percent margin in late July. The same poll shows that Rowland's approval rating has dropped from 63 percent to 54 percent.