Trump casts shadow on Himes-Shaban race

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, State Rep. John Shaban

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, left, and State Rep. John Shaban

Washington – Democrats across the country are trying to tie their Republican opponents to Donald Trump and the race for the 4th District congressional seat is no different.

Rep. Jim Himes, 50, seeking a fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been challenged by John Shaban, a Republican who represents Easton, Redding and Weston in the state House.

For Shaban, the race is about Himes’ effectiveness and Shaban’s wish to bring more federal dollars to Connecticut and loosen federal reins on how the state can spend those dollars.

“Right now we are sending (taxpayer) money to D.C. and begging for some of it back from people who are not from Connecticut,” Shaban said.

For Himes, a main political calculation is how Trump’s candidacy will impact races in Connecticut. He thinks Democrats may stay home in Connecticut because they are confident their votes aren’t needed for Hillary Clinton to win the race.

“Our main concern is that we Democrats don’t suffer up and down the ticket because of complacency,” he said.

Himes also tries to tie Shaban, 52, a partner in the Whitman Breed law firm in Greenwich, to Trump.

Shaban, who originally backed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said he’s going to make up his mind on Election Day whether to vote for Trump. He says the choice voters face is between a “liar,” meaning Clinton, and a “jerk,” meaning Trump.

“I want to see what develops and make my decision on game day,” he said.

Some Republicans have recently distanced themselves from Trump after release of a hot-mic tape in which Trump was recorded boasting about his license to grope women as “a star.” More recently, several women have come forward saying they were the victims of unwanted advances by Trump, which the candidate has denied.

Even before that, Shaban was wary of endorsing Trump. He campaigned at a Trump rally in Fairfield County this summer – after all, it took place  in the congressional district he hopes to represent – but left before Trump’s arrival.

Himes said Shaban’s efforts to distance himself from Trump are “bull—-.”

“The question is, ‘Is he supporting him for president?’” Himes asked. He called eaving the rally a little early “a pathetic dodge.”

Democrats like Himes hope Trump’s candidacy depresses GOP turnout.

Art Paulson, professor emeritus of political science at Southern Connecticut State University, said that is likely. But Trump is not the only national Republican who has hurt GOP candidates in Connecticut because they have been too conservative – especially on social issues  — Paulson said.

“If (Texas Senator) Ted Cruz were on the national ticket, he would have done the same harm,” Paulson said. “In a presidential election year, the top of the ticket is usually a drag.”

Paulson said things might have been different for Connecticut’s Republicans if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Ohio Gov. John Kasich were at the top to the ticket.

Shaban spoke of  a different impact Trump has had – he says it has hurt the ability of  Republican candidates like him to raise money.

“The traditional funding sources have left the field,” Shaban said.

He said many of the deep- pocketed donors in Fairfield County backed Bush for president, and when he failed to win the Republican presidential primary, “they took their checkbooks and moved on.”

According to the latest reports to the Federal Elections Commission, on Sept. 30 Shaban had raised about $123,000 and had about $40,000 in cash on hand. Himes raised $1.7 million and had more than $2 million in cash-on-hand.

Shaban said the disparity in fundraising “is definitely making things more difficult” and forced him to “do things the old-fashioned way,” like knocking on doors and asking for support from voters fact-to-face and putting up a campaign billboard on I-95.

He is also employing newfangled campaign tactics, relying heavily on social media and You Tube videos to get his message out.

Gary Rose, the head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said the race is typical of congressional contests.

“It’s the strong incumbent vs. the relatively unknown challenger,” he said.

Centrist Democrat vs. pragmatic Republican

Himes is a former investment banker who was born and grew up in Lima, Peru, where his father worked for the Ford Foundation. When he was 10 years old, his parents divorced, and he came to the United States with his mother and two sisters.

Like many Wall Street executives, Himes eventually settled in Greenwich, serving on the town’s Democratic town committee. In 2008, helped in part by Barack Obama’s candidacy for president, Himes defeated former Republican Rep. Chris Shays. The Democrat has won easy re-election since.

In Congress, he’s a leader of the centrist New Democrat Coalition who sometimes casts votes against the majority of his party, most notably when he voted to give Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. Most Democrats opposed the president on this, and Himes’ vote cost him the endorsement of the Working Families Party.

Himes was also the lone vote in the House of Representative against a bill that would make the prize money handed out to U.S. Olympians who earn a medal tax exempt. Himes said that would benefit “the richest athletes” and further complicate the tax code.

Himes also won national attention when he refused to observe a moment of silence on the House floor after the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Himes was upset about Congress’s refusal to act on gun control.

“I will no longer stand here absorbing the faux concern, contrived gravity and tepid smugness of a House complicit in the weekly bloodshed,” Himes said.

He’s not spending all of his time during the congressional break, which ends after the Nov. 8 elections, campaigning for his re-election.  He’s also stumping for two Democratic challengers running for seats in the General Assembly. One is Phillip Dwyer, who is running against Republican Sen. Tony Hwang in Fairfield. The other is John Blankley, who is running against incumbent state Sen. Scott Frantz and Green Party candidate Edward Heflin.

Himes sits on the Financial Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. But for most of his congressional career, he’s been in the minority.

That doesn’t matter to Shaban, who says Himes is a “do-nothing, done-nothing guy” who has accomplished little.

“He’s not a bad guy; he’s a nice guy,” Shaban said. “He’s just the wrong guy.”

Shaban is a former semipro football player from Brooklyn, N.Y., He won his seat in the General Assembly in November of 2010 and is the top Republican on the Environment Committee. He has given up his seat to run for Congress.

Shaban said the first bill he would introduce in Congress would alter the tax code to give taxpayers a $2 deduction for every dollar they contributed to a state fund that would pay for educational, transportation or urban development projects.

He said if he failed to win the election, he’d continue to run a non-profit he founded 15 years ago in Bridgeport called “Athletes in the Community,” the charitable arm of the CTGiants, the semipro football team he played for and managed.

Rose said Shaban “has the reputation as a pragmatic Republican.”

“He’s not  an ideologue,” Rose said.

Rose also said Shaban is definitely an underdog in the race.

“Maybe he thought it would be a Republican year, but Trump is going to hurt him,” Rose said.

The candidates for the 4th District seat will face each other in back-to-back debates on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 in Wilton and Stamford. There also may be a third debate.

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