There are gifted debaters.
Not known as kings of the one-liner or for their rhetorical flourishes, the familiar foes will face off Wednesday night in Norwich for the first of seven gubernatorial debates in a rematch of a race decided by 6,400 votes in 2010. The hour-long skirmish, which will not be televised, is being sponsored by The Bulletin newspaper at Norwich Free Academy.
Will the rivals, who have had four years to let the issues ferment relating to jobs, taxes, gun control and education, bring out the best in each other, or the worst?
Both candidates could use some coaching, according to several experts on the art of debate interviewed Tuesday.
"Malloy has a deliberate way of speaking, and Foley is wooden at times," Hanley said.
That Malloy would agree to seven debates with Foley this time, Hanley said, is somewhat surprising in what by all accounts is a toss-up race.
"This is a risk Malloy is taking," Hanley said. "He's basically opening himself up to fodder for campaign ads if he makes a gaffe."
In 2010, there were six debates between Malloy and Foley, a Greenwich private equity manager and former U.S. ambassador to Ireland who some political observers labeled as a Mitt Romney clone because of his boardroom persona.
"Tom Foley needs to show up and convince voters he is both credible and likable," said Katie Levinson Burke, a former Republican political operative based in Norwalk who worked in the White House for President George W. Bush and on Capitol Hill.
"It may sound easy, but the reality is, debates are still a bit of the Wild West when it comes to political campaigns," Burke said. "Even the best-prepared and most disciplined candidates can trip and fall, and debates are often won or lost on a candidate's ability to think on their feet and use humor to either recover from a stumble or to advance a serious policy argument."
Duby McDowell, a leading Democratic political consultant and former journalist based in Hartford, said Malloy should not get hung up on trying to be something that he is not.
"He's a serious guy who doesn't come across as Mister Lighthearted and full of quip. That's who he is," said McDowell, a principal of McDowell Jewett Communications.
McDowell said Malloy will not fall into the trap of being ill-prepared, and he has shown measurable improvement in his debate performances since he first ran for governor in 2006.
"I think practice makes perfect," McDowell said.
Hanley said he expects Malloy to use every opportunity in the upcoming debates to remind voters about Foley blaming the closure of a paper mill in the eastern Connecticut town of Sprague on workers and the local first selectman, who argued that it was the greed of private equity managers like Foley that shuttered the company.
For Foley to be successful, Hanley said, he must keep the debate focused on Malloy's handling of the economy and how the state would be more inviting to businesses in a Foley administration.
"They know each other's strengths and weaknesses," Hanley said. "They know the pulse points. They know how to bob and weave."