Normally, getting an “upgrade” means a bigger rental car or more leg room on a long airplane flight. But in Washington, it’s also political term, and today, Republican Dan Debicella saw his contest against Democrat Rep. Jim Himes upgraded one notch on a closely-watched list of competitive House races around the country.

The Cook Political Report’s House editor, David Wasserman, moved the 4th District match-up between Himes, a freshman who wrested the seat from GOP Rep. Chris Shays in 2008, and Debicella, a state senator from Shelton, from “likely” to stay in Democratic hands to a “lean” Democratic contest. Three other rankings (Congressional Quarterly, the Rothenberg Political Report, and Politico) still have Himes ranked as relatively safe.

While the Cook Report move might seem incremental, it could help persuade Republican party strategists in D.C. to pour some cash into the race on behalf of Debicella, who as of the last campaign finance reports, had about $500,000 in the bank compared to $1.8 million for Himes.

Explaining the switch, Wasserman wrote that while Himes was making a play for independents and “soft Democrats” who had previously supported Shays, the Democrat now faces the prospect of low Democratic turnout in the 4thDistrict’s key cities, like Bridgeport. And Debicella’s $500,000 bank account means he’ll be able to make an “ample” case for his candidacy on TV and through mailings.

He still gives Himes a “slight edge,” but says Shays’ old supporters will be key.

Debicella’s campaign quickly blasted out the news in an email marked urgent, but the Himes’ folks were non-plussed. “Dan Debicella can talk about national attention all he wants, but he’s just not generating the excitement his email program tries to fabricate,” said campaign manager Mark Henson.

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