HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) - The first term of Connecticut's top official bears many similarities to that of Arkansas' most famous governor, former President Bill Clinton told hundreds of Gov. Dannel Malloy's supporters Monday.
About 700 turned out for the evening rally at the Learning Corridor where Clinton made his second appearance this month to support the Democratic incumbent in Connecticut's tight gubernatorial election.
Praising the tough decisions Malloy has made during his first term, Clinton likened what Malloy has done for Connecticut to his own work as governor of Arkansas.
Clinton said people should not believe politics is always "eating candy and never having to go to the dentist."
"[Malloy] had a strategy that was designed to make everybody mad," Clinton said, referring to the Democratic governor's shared-sacrifice approach to balancing the budget in 2011.
When Malloy took office, the state was facing a $3.67 billion deficit - a sum that represented about 19 percent of the state's $19.1 billion budget at the time.
Malloy said Monday he did the best that he could.
"I understand that there can be a difference of opinion of some of the things that I've done," Malloy told the crowd. "But let me look you all straight in the face and say that every time I made a decision, every time I tried to lead, every time I spoke to legislators, and every time I did a town hall meeting, I did what I truly believed was the right thing to do - to move this state forward."
Malloy spoke about why he made the decision not to balance the state budget on the backs of local government, and instead increased taxes $1.8 billion and negotiated another $1.6 billion in contract concessions with the state's unionized employees.
"I did what I truly believed was the right thing to do to move this state forward," Malloy told the crowd.
"It is as if we took a playbook from a governor of Arkansas," he added.
Clinton applauded the progress Malloy has made in lowering crime, increasing graduation rates and improving the economy.
"He did the things necessary to move Connecticut forward," Clinton said of Malloy.
"He got you through this rough time."
Voters always say, "I wish they would just stand up and tell us the truth," Clinton noted. "That's exactly what he did."
Growing up with seven siblings gave Malloy an early lesson in governing, Clinton continued. In both situations, you get everyone together and "figure out what you gotta do to get out of the hole after you stop digging, and then go build a better future," he said.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said the event marked a celebration of the progress Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman have made, turning around years of neglect by former Republican governors.
A handful of Malloy's staffers were among the crowd of union members and state employees. Several state agency commissioners also attended the event.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra reminded the crowd that turnout will be key in the midterm election.
"We need the turnout," Segarra said. "And we are going to win."
Clinton's visit on behalf of Malloy was his second to the state in the past month. He was one of several national figures expected to visit the state this week on behalf of Malloy and the Republican challenger, Tom Foley.
The latest Quinnipiac University poll showed the race between Malloy and Foley in a dead heat, with third-party candidate Joe Visconti taking 9 percent of the vote.
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