For the second time in as many elections, Connecticut's 4th Congressional
District has become the scene of a fierce battle between a moderate
Republican incumbent, Rep. Christopher Shays, and a liberal Democratic
challenger, former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell.
The last time the two competed, in 2004, Shays received 52 percent
of the vote to Farrell's 48 percent.
Another moderate candidate, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph
Lieberman's defeat in his party's primary at the hands of anti-Iraq
war candidate Ned Lamont, has refocused national attention on
three Connecticut seats that appear to be up for grabs this year
-- the 4th District among them.
The district sits in the southwest corner of the state, bordering
New York and Long Island Sound. This mix of wealthy commuter suburbs,
dense, urban enclaves and quiet, woodsy towns served as a reliable
Republican stronghold for much of the 20th century. But following
the 1992 election, when native son George H.W. Bush narrowly edged
out Bill Clinton in the district, voters in the 4th District have
consistently chosen Democratic presidential candidates while returning
Shays to Congress.
According to Sacred Heart government professor Gary Rose, the
Iraq war "is the paramount issue" in this congressional
race. "I do believe that on Nov. 7 most voters in the 4th
District and districts around the country will have Iraq front
and center in their decision," he told the Connecticut Post.
Shays voted to authorize force in Iraq and supported the Bush
administration's policy until his 14th trip to Iraq in late August.
In an announcement that made headlines across the nation, Shays
said that the lack of progress he had observed had convinced him
that the United States must "set firm timelines for Iraqi
security forces to replace our troops."
This shift in position from a congressman who The Washington
Post called "one of the most articulate supporters of the
war" seems to be in keeping with an electorate increasingly
skeptical of the war's success. Charlie Cook, a nonpartisan analyst,
told The New York Times, "If you're a Republican in a tough
re-election, you have to stop and reexamine your position."
But while Shays' supporters see his change in position as an
enlightened evolution, his detractors see political calculation.
Farrell told the Times, "Chris Shays knows he is in the fight
of his life. And it appears that he will say anything in the hope
that voters will forget his past record." In her first advertisement
of the campaign, Farrell tells viewers that "for three years,
Chris Shays has been wrong on Iraq" and that he has given
President Bush "a blank check to run an open-ended war."
Shays has taken stands unpopular with conservative members of
his party by supporting campaign finance reform and calling for
the removal of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who stepped
down after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy charge
stemming from a campaign finance investigation. But Shays also
has received or is scheduled to host campaign visits from current
Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, former Reps. Newt Gingrich,
R-Ga., and J.C. Watts, R-Okla., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and
While Farrell and Shays kept the debate mostly civil in the 2004
election, the tone of both campaigns has grown increasingly hostile
this year. A left-leaning advocacy group, American Family Voices,
sponsored automated phone calls that accused Shays of siding with
"religious extremists" and voting against embryonic
stem cell research, the Connecticut Post reported. When Shays
responded to the attacks saying, "I'm not going to sit back,
though, and have my opponent use surrogates the way Syria and
Iran use surrogates," the Farrell campaign protested. "You
simply cannot make an analogy between my campaign and Hezbollah
and claim that you are not going negative," she said.