Washington — What was once considered a sleeper has become a race to the finish line as Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th, tries to shake off Republican challenger Steve Obsitnik.
Both candidates will spend the next two weeks crisscrossing the district, reminding the faithful to go to the polls and, even more important, trying to sway the dwindling numbers of uncommitted voters.
But each candidate is running the home stretch differently.
For Himes, it’s making sure the voters of Shelton — included in the 4th District by redistricting — get to know him, and to like him.
For Obsitnik, it’s making inroads in the inner cities of the district, long considered Democratic bastions, and panning for votes in the district’s suburbs, rich mines for Republicans.
The National Republican Congressional Committee stepped into the race last week with a television ad coordinated with the Obsitnik campaign that focuses on the candidate’s military background and his experience as an entrepreneur.
Obsitnik is receiving special help from the Washington-based Republican strategists because he reached certain fundraising mileposts and was judged to be otherwise competitive in a district that has swung from Democrat to Republican for generations.
Obsitnik is a political neophyte who has taken a leave as CEO of Quintel, a wireless company, and is a former naval officer. He lives in Westport with his wife and two daughters.
Himes is a former executive who abandoned Wall Street to join a nonprofit involved in low-income housing. He eventually won a local public office and ran for Congress in 2008. He lives in Greenwich with his wife and two daughters.
Both say they belong in their respective parties’ moderate wing. Both have starred their young daughters in campaign videos. That’s where similarities end.
Himes is running on his centrist record and trying to convince voters they need to send him back to Washington because he’s been effective in representing the district. His insistence that he’s a fiscal conservative has been coupled lately with another message President Obama and many other Democrats are using: Their party would better protect women’s reproductive rights.
Obsitnik’s strategy is to tie Himes to Congress whose popularity has plunged and to the nation’s fiscal mess. He’s running as an outsider who promises to serve no more than eight years in the House of Representatives.
Obsitnik’s campaign manager John Puskar said the goal of the last days of the campaign is to try to establish inroads in the inner city neighborhoods of Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stanford, where the campaign has positioned full-time campaign workers devoted to that task.
“We’re the only [Republican] campaign that has made an effort,” Puskar said. “But a vote in Wilton is just as good as a vote in Stamford.”
Puskar also said the campaign is paying attention to the district’s eastern suburbs as well as the wealthier western suburbs.
The message in the eastern suburbs may center more on job creation, while the message in the western suburbs is focused on assuring its high-income residents Obsitnik will oppose attempts to end their Bush-era tax breaks, Puskar said.
Himes has been reaching out to minority and women voters, but he said he “addresses different concerns in different parts of the district.”
Both campaigns are well funded so they can continue to run ads on cable until Election Day on Nov. 6.
The question is: Will they turn as nasty as the ones in the U.S. Senate and 5th District congressional seat?
To date the squabbles have been limited largely on who is the best fiscal conservative.
But the involvement of the NRCC may indicate attack ads are coming.
Regardless, Himes said he won’t run them. “I’m staying positive.”
Political analysts in Washington think Himes, who survived a strong challenge two years ago, is favored in the race.
But Gary Rose, professor of political science at Sacred Heart University, said he wouldn’t put the race in the “safe corner” for Himes.
“(GOP presidential nominee ) Mitt Romney could play well in the district, which could give Obsitnik coattails,” Rose said.
Even if he fails to unseat Himes, Obsitnik has made a strong effort in his first bid for public office and may enter the political arena again, Rose said.
Meanwhile, Himes said he’s doing much as he did in 2008 when he unseated former Republican Rep. Chris Shays and when he defended his seat in a tough campaign two years ago.
“The final days always look the same,” he said. “They start at the train station and end at somebody’s house for dinner.”