Connecticut Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele announced Wednesday that he has entered the race for governor, becoming the first Republican to formally declare his candidacy for the seat being vacated by Republican M. Jodi Rell next year.
Fedele, 54, said his private-sector experience would be an asset in trying to restore lost jobs and boost the economy. He is founder and chairman of an information technology company, and was chosen by Rell to be her running mate in 2006.
"I think we have a defining moment here in Connecticut, an opportunity to turn the state around," Fedele told The Associated Press before his official announcements in Cromwell and his hometown of Stamford. "I think as governor I can help the state get through the financial crisis."
Other Republicans have been considering throwing their hats into the ring ever since Rell announced Nov. 9 that she would not seek re-election.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley is planning to announce Thursday whether he will ditch his U.S. Senate campaign and seek the Republican nomination for governor. A message was left for Foley's campaign Wednesday.
Other potential GOP contenders include state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been lining up to run for governor, a job their party hasn't held in Connecticut since William A. O'Neill left office in 1991. The Democratic Governors Association says it is making Connecticut one of its top priorities in the 2010 elections, hoping to recapture a governor's seat after losing Virginia and New Jersey this year.
Registered Democrats nearly outnumber registered Republicans 2-1 in Connecticut, but the largest voting bloc is the state's nearly 850,000 unaffiliated voters.
Former state House Speaker James Amann is the only declared Democratic candidate. Businessman Ned Lamont, who became a national political figure in 2006 by defeating Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary, has formed an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial run.
Exploratory committees also have been formed by Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, former Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, state Sen. Gary LeBeau and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi.
Fedele has been lieutenant governor since 2007 and served in the state House of Representatives from 1993 to 2002. He was born in Minturno, Italy, in 1955 and moved to Connecticut with his family in 1958.
Fedele offered few specifics Wednesday on his plans to improve economic conditions in the state, where nearly 80,000 jobs have been lost since the first quarter of 2008, unemployment is nearing 9 percent and the state budget deficit is estimated at nearly $470 million. He said he plans to analyze economic conditions and put together a plan.
"Clearly jobs are the No. 1 thing," he said. "We need to get this economy jump-started. If we can get that, I think we'll see many of the other issues not go away but be minimized."