Bridgeport — Democratic Congressman Jim Himes easily won his third term in Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District, perhaps solidifying a shift in attitudes and party affiliation in a region that was considered safe for Republicans not too long ago.
While the final numbers were still trickling in Tuesday night, it is likely that Himes won by a greater margin than he did in 2008 or in 2010. He said he picked up “several” suburban towns that he did not expect, including Shelton, Monroe and Ridgefield, once considered Republican strongholds.
Until Himes won on the coattails of President Barack Obama in 2008, the 4th Congressional District had been represented by moderate Republican Chris Shays for more than 20 years.
Himes’ challenger Steve Obsitnik, a Navy veteran and businessman who had never before run for political office, tried to capitalize on the moderate nature of the district. He characterized Himes as a party-line Democrat, calling him “Mr. 94%,” referring to the fact that Himes voted with his fellow Democrats most of the time he was in Congress.
Himes openly rejected that notion Tuesday night in his victory speech, pledging “to be an independent and thoughtful leader of this district.”
“I will stand for my principles,” he said, as onlookers cheered and applauded.
In his concession speech and a statement to the media, Obsitnik said he was proud of his campaign and called on Himes to end the partisanship in Washington.
“It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” he said. “We may have had a tough time tonight, but I encourage all of you to stay involved. Play hard, work hard, and together we’ll win as a nation.”
Cities were key
While new support from small towns helped Himes, turnout in the big cities played a large role.
Lower Fairfield County’s three large cities — Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk — turned out heavily for Himes in 2008; in fact, they were the only municipalities Himes won that year. (More than 60 percent of voters in Ridgefield cast their ballots for Republican candidate Chris Shays in 2008, along with more than half of voters in Shelton and Monroe.)
While turnout numbers were unavailable from Bridgeport’s registrar of voters Tuesday night, polling places across the city showed that voters made a strong showing. About 40,500 people were registered to vote in Bridgeport as of Nov. 1, and lines at the registrar’s office were long even on Election Day as more continued to register.
At Harding High School, election worker Brian Banacowski said he thought voter turnout this year was higher than in 2008. As early as 5 a.m. Tuesday, “there was a line from here all the way out almost to the parking lot,” he said, speaking from the Harding gym, where people cast their votes. Election workers at several other poll stations made similar observations.
Ten minutes after polls closed Tuesday night, Blackham Elementary School in Bridgeport’s North End was still packed with hundreds of people waiting to vote. More than 3,000 had voted at the polling station, where about 6,000 were registered. By 9:30, the Himes campaign reported, voters were still waiting in line at the polls in some of Norwalk’s and Bridgeport’s biggest precincts.
They were willing to wait — but not all of them were excited about their vote.
“I’m ready for it to be over,” said Sheryl Rosen, who has lived in Bridgeport for 16 years. “The campaigns are ugly. Nobody has anything positive to say about anybody…I’m going to go in there, and I’m going to pick the least offensive liar.”
Rosen said she is a registered Democrat, but still wasn’t sure who she was going to vote for as she waited in line.
“I’m leaning toward Obsitnik,” she said, adding that she did not vote for Himes in 2008 or in 2010. “I don’t like that he sneaked in on Obama’s coattails four years ago.”
Lashaya Marrow, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, was most excited to vote for Obama because of his position on lowering the interest on student loans and helping students pay for college. She didn’t know anything about Himes or his challenger, so she left that section of the ballot blank, she said.
While Democratic support can generally be counted on in Fairfield County’s big cities, even some of its staunchly Republican suburbs are changing. The percentage of Democrats registered to vote in Greenwich jumped from 20 percent to 26 percent between 2000 and 2008, while Republicans declined from 45 percent to 38 percent.