In a normal year, someone like Christopher Shays—a well-liked moderate Republican and a nine-term incumbent with a loyal base—would not have been sweating on election night. But dissatisfaction with the Iraq war in Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District was a big reason why Shays found himself trailing Democratic challenger Dianne Farrell by a 51-44 margin in a Zogby/Reuters poll released Monday. Still, as Tuesday night became Wednesday morning, Shays appeared to narrowly retained his seat.
"We want Shays! We want Shays!" screamed his supporters late Tuesday at his Election Day headquarters, a hotel in Norwalk, Conn., as the incumbent declared victory, with roughly 51 percent to 48 percent of the vote. (His opponent, Democrat Diane Farrell, said, "We're not there yet," asking that all the votes be counted before she conceded.) Blowing kisses to his supporters, Shays's acceptance speech humbly referenced what many considered his biggest weakness: his support for the war in Iraq. Calling out the names of the several soldiers from his district who had died in combat, Shays acknowledged, "I sent them to Iraq and they came home draped in American flags. I think about them almost every day of my life." A few minutes later, he added, "I hope we find a way to bring our men and women home."
That’s a sentiment echoed by many of Shays’s constituents, who said that while the liked their representative, they opposed his party. "I voted straight Democrat for the first time," says Jim Christensen, 55, of Norwalk. "I wanted a change. The real reason I voted? I wanted to get out of Iraq long before my son and his friends had to do what we did in Vietnam. I wanted an exit strategy."
"This was really tough," says Marybeth Darcy, who didn't make her decision—to vote for Farrell—until she was in the voting booth. The 36-year-old paralegal voted for George W. Bush twice and has worked with Shays before in fund-raising. "I like Chris Shays. He is a people person who really connects. But at this point, my vote was more about being antiwar."
Even voters who stuck with Shays last night cited Iraq as a concern. "I'm not too crazy about the war," said Carmen Ferrer, 35. "But he's a good politician." That, in the end, seemed to be enough.