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Stamford Advocate - Himes Defeats Shays in 4th District

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Location: Norwalk, CT

Stamford Advocate - Himes Defeats Shays in 4th District

By Neil Vigdor

Riding the coattails of Barack Obama in a district that is trending blue, Greenwich Democrat Jim Himes sent New England's last Republican House member, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., packing Tuesday after 21 years in office.

According to unofficial results from the Associated Press, Himes was leading Shays 57.3 percent to 41.7 percent, with about 46 percent of voting precincts reporting as of 10:45 p.m.

On a night when many Democrats and Republicans expected to stay up late waiting for results to trickle in from across the district, which includes most of Fairfield County and a sliver of New Haven County, a nail-biter of an election never materialized.

At 9:45 p.m., Shays, who has been targeted by national Democrats in each of his last three races, emerged on stage at the Norwalk Inn & Conference Center and told despondent supporters that he had just called Himes to concede the race. Some of Shays' supporters were just arriving at the hotel and banquet hall when they learned the news.

Across town at The Brewhouse in South Norwalk, where Himes' Election Night gathering had been billed in advance as a "victory party," the mood was one of exhilaration for Himes and a throng of a few hundred supporters.

"My brothers and my sisters, thank you from the bottom of my heart. We have in many ways changed history tonight," said Himes, who was flanked by his wife, Mary, his two young daughters and members of the state's Democratic establishment, including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy.

A former Goldman Sachs investment banker turned nonprofit housing executive, Himes took advantage of a huge turnout district-wide, especially in cities with large minority populations such as Bridgeport that voted heavily for Obama.

Interrupted several times by chants of "Yes We Can," Himes praised Shays for his years of service.

"Chris Shays is a man of courage and grace and an example for all of us," said Himes, a former chairman of the both the Greenwich Housing Authority and the Democratic Town Committee.

Himes, who never ran for office outside Greenwich before Tuesday, also carried Stamford, however, something previous Shays foes couldn't claim. "People wanted change and that's what the people are getting," said Jason Walsh, 22, a Himes staffer from Fairfield.

In the final week of the campaign, the Himes campaign released a radio spot featuring a taped endorsement from Obama.

"I think that wave, that real tidal wave, is going to lift all Democratic hopes and candidates," Blumenthal said confidently before the race had even been conceded.

At the Norwalk Inn & Conference Center, the mood was somber as Shays reflected on his loss.

"My two-year contract has not been renewed and no one likes being told someone else is taking your job," said Shays, 63, who took office in 1987 after winning a special election to fill the seat of the late Stewart McKinney.

During the final days of the fiercely contested race Shays had often referred to himself as an "endangered species," a reference to him being the only GOP House member from New England to survive the 2006 mid-term elections.

"He's been a target," said Norwalk Republican Mayor Richard Moccia, who went into the evening with high expectations that Shays would survive another challenge.

This time around, though, there were about 25,000 new Democratic voters in the district, compared with just 9,000 new Republicans, a key statistic when the margin of victory for Shays over Democrat Diane Farrell in 2006 was only 7,000 votes.

A self-proclaimed moderate, Shays was painted throughout the campaign by Himes as an apologist for the Bush administration's failed foreign polices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And then came the double-whammy of the economic meltdown and $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, events that the Himes campaign faulted Shays for allowing to transpire during his watch as a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. Himes hammered away at Shays in the campaign's final two months for remarks he made in a Labor Day radio interview in which he said the "fundamentals of the economy are sound. No one can disagree with that."

Shays has been viewed by many politcal pundits as the last of a dying breed of so-called Rockefeller Republicans, the group of fiscally conservative, socially liberal GOPers named after the former vice president.

"I personally think it's a real tragedy, an American tragedy," Blumenthal said of the diminishing stature of moderate Republicans, whom he called "invaluable. My hope is it will revive, just as the moderate Democrats were lost for time."

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