By ROBERT KOCH and HAROLD COBIN
Democrat Jim Himes obtained a stunning upset victory over eight-term Republican Congressman Christopher Shays Tuesday night.
At press time, Himes was arriving at the Brewhouse Restaurant on Marshall Street to accept the accolades of his supporters.
"Shays was a man of grace," Himes said. "We all know the challenges ahead are severe, and we will only solve them by coming together."
Himes was joined in celebrating there by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy.
Earlier in the evening, a group of at least 200 Himes supporters gathered around a large-screen TV whooping with delight each time favorable news about a Democrat was reported on CNN.
The group burst into a roar when it was announced Shays had conceded the race, followed by chanting, "Jim! Jim! Jim!"
The ground floor dining room of the restaurant was emptied of tables and converted into a temporary TV studio, with a half-dozen video cameras mounted on a platform and additional lighting hung from a spiral staircase. A line of still photographers captured the clamorous scene from the second-floor balcony.
At about 9:45 p.m., Shays, joined by his wife and daughter, took the stage before several hundred teary-eyed supporters at The Norwalk Inn & Conference Center at 99 East Ave. and told them that he had just called Himes to congratulate him on his victory.
"Tonight, my two-year contract has not been renewed. And no one likes being told that someone else is taking your place," Shays said. "So there are disappointments. But I want you to know ... there's absolutely no regrets, whatsoever."
Shortly afterward, Shays qualified his comment.
"I have this regret though," Shays said. "I was really hoping that a very positive campaign ... could overcome this tsunami that we all knew was there."
Shays thanked his family, congratulated his campaign workers and asked his supporters to "be Americans first and Republicans and Democrats second" for the next president.
Himes, 42, is a vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, a nationwide, nonprofit producer of affordable housing. He began working for Enterprise in 2003, after spending 12 years as a banker at Goldman Sachs & Co. in Latin America, where he worked in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and high technology.
Himes lives in Cos Cob with his wife, Mary, and daughters Emma and Linley. He graduated from Harvard University in 1988 and then attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he continued his studies of Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish.
On issues facing the Fourth District and the country, Himes, on his campaign Web site, proposes a tax cut package that, he says, will help families achieve "three pillars of the American dream," owning a home, sending children to college, and saving to build wealth over time.
Under his plan, families would be able to deduct up to $1,500 to defray the closing costs on a first home; $5,000 to help cover college tuition costs, and $1,000 to match voluntary contributions to a retirement savings account.
Himes also proposes a refundable Higher Education Tax Credit equal to 50 percent of the first $10,000 in college costs per student, and calls for expanding early childhood education through funding for state-based programs, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start.
Himes says he supports funding the federal government on a "pay-as-you-go" basis, requiring all new spending to be either budget-neutral or offset with other savings.
Himes' Web site also says a woman's reproductive choices are private and complex, and should be hers alone to make without interference from politicians or the government. He also supports reducing unplanned pregnancies through comprehensive family planning services, availability of contraception, and scientifically accurate sex education.
Himes calls for the repeal of the Bush Administrationís "gag rule" that prohibits international family planning organizations from offering women in developing countries a full range of reproductive health care options.
On immigration, Himes wants to crack down on employers who violate the country's immigration and employment laws, fueling illegal immigration "by encouraging people seeking economic opportunity to enter our country illegally." Himes says a real dent can be made in illegal immigration by assisting in the economic development of Latin America.
Earlier in the evening, Shays supporters gathered in front of a large monitor board posting the results from the 17 towns in the 4th District. For the first hour, it looked as though Shays might win.
At 8:45 p.m., with some precincts reporting, Shays held 50.9 percent of the vote; Himes held 48.9 percent, according to the monitor.
Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia predicted the election outcome would hinge upon Norwalk.
"This one's hard to gauge. Connecticut, obviously, is going to go for Obama, and Chris has been one of the biggest targets (of Democrats) in the country," Moccia said. "If (Shays) can hold (Democratic votes) down in Norwalk and the suburban towns come in (for Shays), it will be close, but we'll have a chance."
Toward 9:30 p.m., Shays held 50.1 percent of the vote with Himes at 49.8 percent. Himes stood above Shays 80 percent to 20 percent in Bridgeport, 58 percent to 42 percent in Stamford, and 58 percent to 42 percent in Norwalk, according to returns shown at The Norwalk Inn.
The Norwalk mayor wasn't pleased with the tone of campaign.
"(Shays) ran a positive campaign. It's too bad the Democratic National Committee couldn't do the same," Moccia said.
Shays was first elected to Congress 1987. This year's race marked his bid for an 11th two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives. In past re-election bids, Shays fought off charges by Democratic challengers over his support of the war in Iraq. With the Wall Street meltdown last month, however, attention for many voters and the two candidates shifted to the economy.
Like Democrats nationwide, Himes sought to portray his Republican opponent as in lock step with the economic policies of Republican President George W. Bush. Himes blasted Shays for having said in early September that "our economy is fundamentally strong." The Greenwich Democrat then called for "smart regulation" of the banking industry.
Shays vigorously rejected comparisons to Bush policies and, as in past races, presented himself as a centrist and independent thinker who has voted alongside fellow Republicans on some pieces of legislation, and parted with Republicans on other legislation.
Last month, Shays' campaign produced an 88-page booklet detailing the congressman's voting record and stances on various issues.
He placed blame for the financial meltdown largely on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- two large, government-sponsored purchasers of home mortgages. The Bridgeport Republican defended the $700-billion financial rescue plan approved by Congress as good for Main Street.
In a recent candidate questionnaire in The Hour, Himes named restoring economic opportunity "for all Americans," passing tax credits for education, first-time home buyers and households that save money, and ending the war in Iraq as his top priorities.
The two candidates faced each other in a half-dozen debates leading up to Tuesday's election. In recent weeks, the two candidates focused on the economic crisis as evidenced by the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Himes' campaign literature pictured him alongside Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama, the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Obama recently did a radio spot for Himes in Connecticut.
Duffee, the Connecticut Green Party candidate for the 4th District, named reducing U.S. military presence, creating public works projects to rebuild infrastructure, and instituting a single-payer health care system as his top priorities.