Door-to-door politics in a “moderate” district

STAMFORD-U.S. Rep. Jim Himes trudged up and down Connecticut Avenue one day this week, knocking on doors and handing out fliers in the rain. In brown loafers and a blue Marmot waterproof jacket, he looked slightly out of place in this working-class neighborhood. But Himes doesn’t have much time to think about aesthetics: It’s a tight race in the 4th District, and the incumbent Democrat is feeling the pressure.

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Rep. Jim Himes greets a young constituent in Stamford (Uma Ramiah)

“Nobody who occupies this seat will ever be comfortable,” he said, “and that’s actually a reflection of a good, moderate district, which frankly the country could use more of.”

And so flanked by State Rep. Patricia Miller, D-Stamford, Himes pounded on doors in one of the lower income sections of his district, on Stamford’s West Side. A slightly crumpled list of registered voters in hand, Himes greeted residents, simply reminding them to vote.

“We just wanted to say hello,” he told one constituent, “because the election’s coming up in November and want to make sure everyone’s registered and gets out to vote.”

He didn’t ask directly for their support, but Himes knows that turnout in low-income areas of his district is crucial for the upcoming midterm elections, just as a strong wave of voters in impoverished Bridgeport pushed him into office in 2008.

And though still favored to win, Himes faces stiff competition from Republican challenger Dan Debicella. A new poll shows the two virtually tied. Still, Himes thinks his background gives him an edge in the 4th District.

The district is a strange mix, including both Greenwich millionaires and low-income families in some of the poorest cities in state. Himes often notes that he’s familiar with both worlds: He worked for Goldman Sachs until 2003 when he joined the Enterprise Foundation, an affordable housing development group.

But Himes has come under fire from Democrats and others for supporting an extension of the Bush tax cuts and for a recent statement that people earning an annual salary of $250,000 in Fairfield County aren’t necessarily “rich.” The Congressman also lives in Greenwich, one of the wealthiest cities in America and has an estimated net worth of between $1,852,055 and $4,580,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But whether it’s name recognition or trust that he’ll represent their best interests, Himes has still managed to maintain support in low-income areas in the 4th District.

The residents of Connecticut Avenue were only slightly suspicious of the strange man on their porches, often hiding behind doors at first. But they were polite and supportive once introduced.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen you before,” said one local, Carlos Garcia.  “That’s good that you all are going out into the community, reaching out,” he said, nodding his head, standing shoeless in his doorway.

“Where do I vote?” he asked the pair. “The church over by the water, that’s where I went when I voted for President Obama.” he said. Miller told him she’d find out for him, and said he’d also be receiving a card with the information in the mail.

Just then Garcia’s mother, Marta, peeked out the door. “Hola Marta, soy Congresista Jim Himes,” he said, surprising her with fluent Spanish. “Are you a voter in Stamford? Don’t forget there’s an election in one month,” he continued.

Garcia wanted a photograph with the Congressman. “You can email that to me,” he said.

And before they left, a note of support: “You do a lot for the community, you have my vote,” said Garcia. “Both of you.”

Himes left campaign information on glossy cards with his portrait at each home, pointing out a familiar face to kids on the block. “Can I give you one of my cards? It’s got a whole bunch of pictures on it. That’s me with a bunch of people including the president of the United States, recognize him?” He spoke Spanish to at least four more locals (Himes was born in Peru and spent some of his childhood in Colombia), and encouraged a brother and sister to vote.

“Young folks don’t vote nearly enough so that means you don’t get listened to, so we need you to get out there.”

Miller expressed her own support for Himes’ campaign. “I’m supporting Jim because I think that he understands the needs of my district,” she explained. “He supported the health care bill, education, child-care. Most of my constituents need those services.”

But no one seemed to want to talk issues on Stamford doorsteps Tuesday. “Maybe they’re a little scared of the media,” said Himes, poking fun at the reporter trailing him.

“But really, I’ve been doing a lot of door-knocking, and sometimes people will raise issues,” he said. “You catch them off guard a little bit. But I think it’s just kind of fun for them to meet someone they get all these mailings from.”