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Connecticut House Candidates Ratchet Up in Final Days

According to a University of Connecticut survey conducted in late October, Democratic challenger Dianne Farrell has erased the five-point lead held by incumbent Republican Rep. Christopher Shays at the start of the month. But Shays’ third-quarter fundraising and cash-on-hand advantage may be enough to prevent Farrell from gaining momentum in one of the nation’s most competitive House races.

A marathon 11 debates between the two major party candidates, excluding Libertarian Phil Maymin and Green Party candidate Richard Duffee, have left few issues in the campaign unaddressed. During the debates, Farrell focused on Shays’ evolving position on the Iraq war and said she would seek a position on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure if elected. Shays argued that Farrell is inexperienced and, as a new member of Congress possibly in the minority party, would have little clout.

Following the last of the debates, the Connecticut Green Party held a press conference announcing that Duffee would withdraw from the race and throw his support behind Farrell, according to the Associated Press.

“We decided to have a strategic alliance with the Democratic Party because we believed this was the quickest way to achieve peace in the Middle East,” said Duffee’s treasurer John Sieh. Though there are 2,000 registered Green Party members statewide, the party claimed it would deliver 1,300 votes to Farrell.

A flood of national politicians and newspaper endorsements have surfaced in the 4th District. Stumping for Farrell were Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, former Sen. Bob Kerrey and Puerto Rico Gov. Abibel Acevedo Vila.

Campaigning for Shays were Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Rep. J.C. Watts, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New York Times and Hartford Courant endorsed Farrell, though both papers supported Shays in the 2004 election. The Connecticut Post, which backed Farrell in 2004, this time endorsed Shays.

Shays found himself on the defensive in recent weeks. After House Speaker Dennis Hastert came under fire for how he handled the conduct of former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who sent “over-friendly” e-mails to male congressional pages, Shays made a controversial comparison between Hastert and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

“I know the speaker didn’t go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day. … Dennis Hastert didn’t kill anybody,” Shays said, referring to a 1969 incident on Chappaquiddick Island in which a passenger in Kennedy’s car — campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne — was killed.

In another comment during an Oct. 12 debate, Shays said incidents at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were not torture but rather part of a “sex ring.” Shays quickly backed away from the statement after his opponent and a chorus of political commentators pounced.

Sacred Heart professor Gary Rose told the Hartford Courant that, “The intensity of the campaign is starting to wear on him [and therefore] he is making impulsive statements.”

An Oct. 26 article in the New Republic, meanwhile, accused Shays of failing to disclose a trip to Qatar financed by the Islamic Free Market Institute.

According to the article, the IFMI was “quickly reimbursed” by the Qatar government — a move that critics said amounted to an unconstitutional payment to Shays by a foreign government. Shays’ chief of staff Betsy Hawkins said it was “a simple human staff error” that was corrected immediately.

The news was not all negative for Shays, however. Fundraising reports filed on Oct. 15 showed that the congressman raised $844,096 in the third quarter, compared with $594,001 raised by Farrell. Farrell has spent significantly more — $1.16 million to Shays’ $742,025. And Shays has nearly twice as much cash on hand: $1.61 million to Farrell’s $812,117.

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