4th District seat, once owned by Westport's McKinney, others in GOP, a Himes' lock?
Updated 12:49 pm, Monday, July 15, 2013
The 4th Congressional District is a study in contrasts: The Gold Coast aura of Greenwich, Fairfield and New Canaan versus the reliably Democratic cities of Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk.
But the GOP is in the grip of a famine in the district, where the party is scouring the Earth for candidates to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat in his third two-year term.
In contrast to Himes' last two re-election campaigns, when multiple Republicans were waiting in the wings to compete against the young congressman from Greenwich, no one is close to stepping up for the 2014 race.
And what has historically been regarded as a swing district in the House is seen by nonpartisan observers as a safe seat for Himes, who the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rewarded with a plum leadership assignment as its national finance chairman earlier this year.
"I don't think we have it on our list of competitive races at the moment," said Stuart Rothenberg, author of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter based in Washington.
Of the Republicans who are said by party insiders to be giving the race consideration, none of them were committal when interviewed by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
"All I can say right now is that I'm doing a lot of research on this and some serious thinking on this," said state Sen. Toni Boucher, 63, a Wilton Republican in her 18th year in the General Assembly.
In addition to running for Congress, Boucher is being mentioned as a potential candidate for lieutenant governor next year. In 2012, she ruled out a challenge of Himes, who she said is not invincible.
"Any of us are beatable," Boucher said. "I wouldn't be surprised for other individuals to come forward. I think given the state of affairs both at the state level and national level, there's a lot of room for improvement."
Himes' margin of victory in the 17-town district, which covers most of Fairfield County and a sliver of New Haven County, has increased exponentially since he rode the coattails of Barack Obama to an upset of Shays in 2008.
"This will never be a safe seat, and that's good -- because my constituents deserve a robust discussion about the best way to move our country forward," Himes said in a statement. "I take every election seriously and look forward to debating ideas to create jobs, reduce the deficit, and improve our education and transportation systems to ensure the next generation of Americans is prepared to lead the country."
`Making peace' with Himes?
A former Goldman Sachs executive who is fluent in Spanish, Himes captured 51 percent of the vote in his upset of Shays, the lone New Englander in the House Republican caucus at the time.
Don't count on a rematch, even though the state GOP quietly put out feelers to see if Shays could be convinced to run.
In Himes' first re-election campaign, when many pundits considered him to be the most vulnerable, he won 53 percent of the vote against Dan Debicella, then a state senator from Shelton.
The biggest political triumph for Himes came in 2012, when he reached the 60 percent threshold against GOP foe Steve Obsitnik, who won eight of the 17 towns, but lost by 41,000 votes.
"I think, privately, Republicans who I've spoken to are making peace with Jim because they realize he's going to be there for a long time," said Frank Farricker, chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee, a post previously held by Himes. "I just don't think there's anybody excited to go out and run against Jim."
Obsitnik, 46, a wireless consulting executive from Westport, attributed the lopsided result to the national political climate.
"I think it was a bad year for Republicans to begin with," said Obsitnik, who has never held office.
Obsitnik remains undecided on his 2014 political plans, which he is discussing with his family and supporters.
"So I wouldn't say I'm not running," said Obsitnik, who was nonplussed by his prior showing. "I can tell you right now that Himes is even more vulnerable today than he was last year."
In 2012, Obsitnik spent just $1.5 million introducing himself to voters in the distinct.
"Basically, this is New York City media market, so it's very hard to break through for a challenger," Rothenberg said of the 4th District.
GOP candidates not stepping forward
"This is a seat that was held by a Republican for decades up until 2008, and I'm confident that we can make this race competitive once again," Labriola said.
Labriola said several Republicans who would be strong candidates have expressed interest in running, though he would not identify them.
State Rep. John Shaban, R-135, who comes from Redding and is a Greenwich-based lawyer, is believed to be one of them.
"It's premature to say, yes or no. Check back with me in a month or two," said Shaban, 49.
"I would entertain the conversation," Stevenson said. "I certainly wouldn't be doing it to pursue any personal political ambitions, because I don't have any."
Stevenson said she is committed to the people of Darien, where she is running for re-election this year.
Peter Tesei, 44, in his third term as first selectman of Greenwich, squelched talk that he would be a logical candidate.
"At the moment, the only focus I have is continuing to serve as first selectman of the town of Greenwich," said Tesei, also seeking re-election.
And then there is the mystery of Linda McMahon, 64, twice thwarted in her bids for U.S. Senate despite spending $100 million of her personal fortune.
The professional wrestling matriarch continues to show up at political events around the state with a press aide, fueling speculation that she's eyeing public office.
"Linda has clearly and consistently stated she has no plans to run for public office," said Kate Duffy, a spokeswoman for McMahon.