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Hartford Courant - Himes Defeats Shays In 4th District

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Location: Norwalk, CT

Democrat Jim Himes rode history and Barack Obama's coattails to victory Tuesday in the 4th Congressional District, unseating Christopher Shays.

For the first time since the founding of the GOP in 1854, New England will be without a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"My two-year contract has not been renewed. No one likes being told someone else is taking their place, so there are disappointments," a composed Shays told his supporters in a concession speech at 9:45 p.m. "There are absolutely no regrets whatsoever."

Shays, 63, a 21-year incumbent, is the last in a line of maverick Republicans who held the Fairfield County seat for 40 years, beginning with Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1968, who gave way to Stewart B. McKinney in 1970 and Shays in 1987.

Connecticut's newest congressman-elect is a 42-year-old former investment banker from Greenwich who had argued that Shays was wrong on the two biggest issues of his career: the war in Iraq and the state of the economy.

"We have in many ways changed history tonight," Himes told supporters.

New voters thronged to the polls Tuesday for Obama, rolling up lopsided margins for Himes in the district's largest cities of Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk.

Himes knew for months that Obama would overpower John McCain, the Arizona senator and GOP presidential nominee, in Connecticut. His Election Day plan was simple: convince as many Obama voters as possible to support him and the rest of the Democratic ticket.

He succeeded. Standing with supporters at a succession of polling places in Bridgeport, Himes greeted Latino voters in fluent Spanish. In black neighborhoods, an oversized picture of Himes standing with Obama was never far away.

Himes was rewarded with nearly 80 percent of the vote in Bridgeport, the largest municipality in a 17-town district that mixes some of America's richest and poorest census tracts.

His victory means that Democrats have swept all U.S. House seats in Connecticut for the first time since 1964, when Barry Goldwater, another Arizona senator seeking the presidency, was defeated in a landslide.

Himes called Shays "a man who has stood for many things," often "against his party," and the district owes him "a tremendous debt."

"He's a man of courage of grace, and I respect enormously the fact that this very talented man chose to devote his life to public service. That's something that many, many people who don't take that path should respect him for."

Himes also called for an end to divisive government.

"If we are going to address the many problems that we have in this country, we need to set aside partisanship, we need to set aside the politics of division - a politics which sort of seeks to divide us along racial lines or geographical lines or political lines," Himes said in an interview shortly after his victory speech. "We are at our very best when we come together with common purpose to do hard things. That's the spirit that has got to animate us."

Of Obama's victory, Himes said: "This country has taken a massive step forward in terms of who we are, and how we think about ourselves, in ... the election of an African American president. That is an apotheosis of sorts."

Shays took the stage at the Norwalk Inn at 9:45 p.m., accompanied by his wife, Betsi, and their daughter, Jeramy.

Shays apologized for not bringing home a victory, but told his supporters that he was proud of completing his last congressional campaign without a single negative ad.

Shays lingered until nearly midnight, offering his thanks and making his goodbyes.

"I want it understood: My days of running for public office are over," Shays said.

Shays won his first race in 1974 as a contrarian, a Republican elected to the General Assembly during the post-Watergate landslide for Democrats. He won a special election to Congress after McKinney died in office. He was seeking his 11th full term.

Shays, who won 64 percent of the vote in 2002, saw his victory margins shrink to 52 percent in 2004 and 51 percent in 2006. His 14,610 margin of victory in 2004 was halved two years ago to 7,060.

Earlier Tuesday, Shays was upbeat, eager to talk about history.

"It's an election that people will write about for centuries, and I'm just so happy and grateful to be someone on this ballot today," Shays said. "We've got two great candidates running for president."

Shays slept until 8 a.m., then went out for a run. He walked from his waterfront home in Bridgeport's Black Rock neighborhood to vote with his wife and daughter.

They waited in line for 30 minutes, and then Shays cast the 804th vote of the day at his polling place.

Himes and his wife, Mary, rose early at their house in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich to cast their votes a little after 6 a.m. with the early commuting crowd.

Himes, who left Goldman Sachs to join a nonprofit developer of low-income housing, spent the middle of the day at the Blackham School in Bridgeport's changing North End, an Italian enclave now grown increasingly diverse. Its voter rolls include some of the 2,967 Latinos who recently registered to vote. Wayne Woodson, a vice president of the NAACP, stood with Himes, as did state Rep. Jack Hennessy and Thomas C. McCarthy, the president of the city council.

"There is something going on here," McCarthy said, surveying the stream of voters.

One of them was 19-year-old Kayla Lima, who came willing to stand in line, despite being seven-months pregnant. She was eager to cast a vote for Obama, but she had heard of Himes.

The previous night, she dreamed of voting. In her dream, she met Himes. Now, he stood in front her, smiling and holding out his hand.

She shook it.


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