Debicella faces tough race against Himes

Washington – Republican Dan Debicella hopes the second time is a charm.

Declaring a rematch this week against Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat who defeated him in 2010, Debicella is hoping voters are exhausted by the recession and disgusted by the status quo in Congress.

“If people think Washington is getting it right, they should vote for Jim Himes,” Debicella said. “If they believe there’s a better way -– one where we are Americans first and Democrats and Republicans second -– they should send me to Washington.”

While Debicella fell to Himes in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote in 2010, he is proud that it was the most competitive congressional race in Connecticut that year.

“This is going to be very competitive again,” he said.

But Debicella is definitely an underdog. Himes has solidified his hold on the Fairfield County-based 4th District since 2010, analysts say.

“Himes has done a real good job of positioning himself where he needs to be,” said Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University.

Rose said Himes was considered a liberal when he first ran for Congress in 2006, winning a seat from former Republican Rep. Chris Shays. But the lawmaker has “moved more effectively with public opinion in the district,” said  Rose. “He’s not really viewed as a liberal Democrat anymore.”

The district has also changed since Debicella’s last run for Congress, becoming more Democratic.

Because of this, the Cook Political Report has classified the 4th District as “solid Democrat” and says Debicella’s decision to run doesn’t change things.

”The district is too Democratic,” said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Other obstacles Debicella must overcome are in Washington, not the 4th District.

As finance chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Himes will raise millions of dollars for his party this year and is a valuable asset to the national Democratic Party. It is certain to help his campaign if needed. 

Then there’s the advantage of the incumbency, which usually gives lawmakers greater name recognition, resources, and ability to raise campaign cash.

In contrast, Debicella has gotten the nod from the Connecticut Republican Party, but is still off the national GOP’s radar.

Yet Debicella, 38, is ready for a fight.

The Republican raised nearly $2 million in campaign cash the last time he challenged Himes, who raised more than $3 million.

Debicella said he hopes to raise more money this time, since about $3 million is needed “to really saturate the district.”

If Debicella is able to raise as much political money as he expects, he’ll certainly catch the eye of the national Republican party and ratchet up the competition.

He says Himes, who has been in Washington for about six years, is an “entrenched” politician. He accuses Himes, who once worked for Goldman Sachs and sits on the House Financial Services Committee, of granting special favors to Wall Street.

Debicella grew up in Shelton and Bridgeport, where his father was a policeman.

He founded an Internet company in the 1990s, served in the state Senate for two terms and most recently worked for Bridgewater Associates.

He’s also the protégé and former campaign manager of George “Doc” Gunther, the longest-serving state legislator in Connecticut history.

A first-time father of a 2-month-old son, Debicella said he quit Bridgewater Associates to concentrate on the campaign.

He hopes having Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy instead of President Obama at the top of the ballot next year will make a difference. Obama on the ticket helped Connecticut Democratic candidates last year.

“This election is going to look like 2010, not 2012,” Debicella said.

No one has indicated an interest in challenging him in a GOP primary, and Debicella said he thinks that’s unlikely.

“But you never say never,” he said.

Debicella hopes to run as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, a brand of Republicanism that seems to gain the most traction in Connecticut. While he shares Republican worries about the federal budget and deficit, Debicella defends abortion rights and the use of stem cells in research.

When it comes to Syria, Debicella said he’s leaning toward Obama’s position –- that a U.S. air strike is needed to dissuade it from using chemical weapons.

“The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable,” Debicella said. “But I need to know what the goal is of the missile strikes. What’s the end game?”

Himes, like most members of the Connecticut congressional delegation, is struggling with the issue and is uncertain how he will vote for a resolution that would give Obama authority to use military force.

Himes has ignored Debicella’s entry into the race, and his office has not responded to media requests seeking reaction.

“We don’t have a comment at this time,” a Himes spokesman said.

While Debicella slams Himes for his ties to Wall Street, the Republican challenger is plugged into the financial community and is likely to raise money from it, too, said Rose. “It’s going to be an election between Goldman Sachs and Bridgewater.”

Rose said Debicella may hope for a large GOP turnout to vote against Malloy next year, especially in Fairfield County -– home to all of the governor’s GOP challengers.

“But he’s going to have to convince people that change is really needed,” Rose said.

Ronald Schurin, political science professor at the University of Connecticut, agreed that Malloy’s fortunes may affect the Himes-Debicella race. But whom it would help is unclear at this point, Schurin said.

“You never know,” he said. “Things could go well for Malloy and Democrats. The economy is turning around, and the state has a surplus right now, but things could change.”

 

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