There’s an ad featuring a Newtown mom on the air in Connecticut. Is it too much?

Gov. Dan Malloy (D-Conn.) ran this ad featuring the mother of a victim of the Sandy Hook school shooting. (Dan Malloy 2014 via YouTube)

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) began running this ad last week as he ramped up his bid for a second term this fall. (Republicans will pick their nominee later Tuesday.) In it, a woman named Nicole Hockley, identified only as a resident of Newtown, says "Governor Malloy has the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing."

Newtown, of course, is immediately translated by Connecticut residents as the sight of the massacre of 20 children and six adults in December 2012. Nicole Hockley's son, Dylan, was killed in that mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She is now the communications director for Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed in the aftermath of the shootings and dedicated to preventing gun violence.

Malloy's ad speaks to the unique political landscape on which the Connecticut governor's race is being fought. Malloy is using his reaction to Newtown -- as well as to Hurricane Sandy -- as evidence of his accomplishments in his first term. "Dan Malloy has made the tough decisions for our kids and our future...providing the leadership to protect our families from gun violence," says the ad's narrator following Hockley's testimonial.

Of course, in using Newtown in ads designed to get him reelected, Malloy is opening the door to charges that he is politicizing the tragedy, which is what the state Republican chairman accused him of immediately after the ad hit the airwaves. Hockley, for her part, told a Connecticut newspaper that the ad is "not exploiting what happened in Sandy Hook...It doesn't exploit me."

Newtown -- and the gun control legislation passed through the state legislature and signed by the governor in its wake -- has also become an issue in the GOP primary fight between 2010 nominee Tom Foley and state Sen. John McKinney. In a debate on Sunday, Foley called the legislation an "overreach" and blamed McKinney for helping shepherd it to passage. McKinney responded that Foley had yet to articulate a clear position on the law, adding: "I think you need to be specific about the answers we give to people because, you know, to beat Dan Malloy we're going to have to be very specific, and I still think you need to answer those questions."

While the Sandy Hook tragedy had less of an impact on national politics than many people predicted at the time, it remains a major touchstone in Connecticut. How Malloy and the soon-to-be chosen Republican nominee navigate the tragedy within the context of a political campaign will be closely watched by the state's voters.  And, while it may not be decisive in the outcome, Newtown and its aftermath will be somewhere in the mind of virtually every voter in the state.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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