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Westporter Obsitnik: Himes, Obama both bad for 4th District

Updated 12:01 pm, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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  • Steve Obsitnik of Westport, seen here announcing his candidacy for Congress last fall, quickly separated himself from what initially had been a crowded GOP field. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Steve Obsitnik of Westport, seen here announcing his candidacy for Congress last fall, quickly separated himself from what initially had been a crowded GOP field. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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Steve Obsitnik, a Westport resident and former Naval officer on hiatus from his career as a technology executive, is campaigning as the Republican candidate against U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, in what he hopes is a 4th Congressional District referendum against President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

Obsitnik says that the president's economic policies have failed. On Friday, when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a meager 80,000 new jobs were created in June, Obsitnik blamed Himes, as well.

"The Himes record has blanketed businesses both small and large with economic uncertainty causing people to rethink making critical investments in their people," Obsitnik said in a statement.

He also blamed Himes for working to block construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline, "which would add thousands of private sector jobs, created by private sector dollars, while reducing our dependency on Middle East oil," Obsitnik said.

In January, the president rejected the pipeline over health, safety and environmental concerns.

Elizabeth Kerr, spokeswoman for Himes, said Friday that the incumbent is eager to engage Obsitnik on jobs, the economy and other issues.

"The congressman looks forward to a robust debate with Mr. Obsitnik, who brags on his own website about sending jobs to Rochester rather than employing people in Connecticut and who wants to gut the new rules to rein in the risky behavior on Wall Street that caused millions of people to lose their jobs."

Obsitnik is a 45-year-old graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served five years on submarines. He says he is relying on leadership skills he learned in the service and the business experience he acquired after earning an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business to unseat the second-term Himes in the 4th District.

While Obsitnik may be a political neophyte, he does have a connection with the late U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, who served as the state's 4th District congressman from 1971 until his death in 1987. It was McKinney who nominated Obsitnik to the Naval Academy back in 1985, when he graduated from Stamford High School.

Speaking recently with Hearst Connecticut Newspaper editors and reporters, Obsitnik said the crucial issues are no secret.

"It's all about jobs, but `jobs' isn't a sound bite," he said. "Jobs is an ecosystem." He calls for short-term employment drivers, tax-code reform and better training to increase the employability of people to fill the high-tech jobs that are opening in Connecticut.

After working for Silicon Valley firms in California and Connecticut, Obsitnik became the CEO of Quintel, a wireless infrastructure provider with offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, where he has traveled extensively.

"We had jobs in my business I couldn't fill," Obsitnik said of the Connecticut workforce. "It's about uncertainty and incentives. Uncertainty about people not starting jobs, not hiring people and incentives to do so."

`A SWING DISTRICT'

For Obsitnik, his congressional bid undoubtedly is made more difficult in an election year where President Barack Obama is expected to win handily in blue-state Connecticut and make it easier for other Democrats on the ballot.

"Going back to 2004, the most it has taken to win the district is 53 percent of the vote," said Dan Debicella, the former state senator from Shelton who lost to Himes in 2010. "This is still a swing district," said Debicella, who now works at the Bridgewater Associates hedge fund in Westport and has been an informal adviser to Obsitnik.

Debicella, another Wharton graduate, said that as a political newcomer it's important for Obsitnik to tour the district continually, with 18-hour days, telling the story of his decorated military career, his experience as an entrepreneur and his philosophy of fiscal conservativism and business growth.

The most crucial group to persuade, Debicella said, is the unaffiliated voters who make up much of the district. In 2010, Debicella lost to Himes 110,746 to 102,030, about 51 percent to 47 percent.

Debicella figures that Obsitnik needs to raise $2 million to be competitive with Himes. In his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Obsitnik had raised $638,562 as of April 28, with $514,962 on hand and a debt of $133,793.

So the forthcoming July 15 filing is crucial to set the table for the start of the late-summer campaign into the fall. Obsitnik declined to detail how the fundraising activity has progressed during this reporting period.

HELD ACCOUNTABLE

Asked why he decided to make Congress his first political aspiration, Obsitnik said it makes more sense than running for local office in his hometown of Westport.

"I think it's all where your expertise is best focused," Obsitnik said last week. "What's the role of the congressman? Well the congressman is to represent people on issues both fiscally, militarily, with regard also to national security. When you look at my background, I would say I am as prepared, if not more prepared, to be a congressman than to be a planning-and-zoning board member."

He said that entrepreneurs and other job creators want to go where it makes the most business sense, whether it's India, the U.S. South, or Connecticut.

"Ideas and money will find the most fertile ground and that requires people, people to make the risk investment, people there to choose to work in those environments in terms of working here or in South Carolina versus Bangalore," Obsitnik said. "It isn't rocket science. It's just treating people well and motivating them and setting them to go out and do something better for themselves and their workers. It's not that hard."

He promises to be his own voice in Congress and not follow in lockstep behind GOP House leaders.

"I don't want to go there for years and hide," he said. "I want to go there with everything I've collected, with all my experiences. I want to be held accountable. That's what the free market has done to me in business, that's what my military leadership did for me in the military and at the end of the day if I can't get the job done, send the next person up. If I can't do it, get the next person up there."