September 17, 2004: Headlines: COS - Fiji: Election2004 - Shays: Politics: Newsday: Shays targeted by Washington Democrats, faces tough race

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Shays targeted by Washington Democrats, faces tough race

Shays targeted by Washington Democrats, faces tough race

Shays targeted by Washington Democrats, faces tough race

Shays targeted by Washington Democrats, faces tough race

Associated Press Writer

September 17, 2004, 5:20 PM EDT

REDDING, Conn. -- It took little prompting from a group of senior citizens for U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays to lash out against what most irks him about his re-election race, the toughest of his 17 years in Congress.

Asked to outline the political differences between himself and his opponent, the 4th District Republican listed a few issues before switching gears and announcing that he's been unfairly accused of changing his moderate ways.

Without mentioning Democrat Diane Farrell by name, Shays disputed claims that he's abandoned the district in favor of the national limelight and terrorism, or that he's shed his maverick image to back the GOP leadership and President Bush.

"I am a national leader on terrorism issues but I haven't forgotten local causes," Shays told the crowd of 200 elderly voters, listing federal grants he has obtained for local projects, such as a multi-modal transportation center in Stamford.

He later held up an analysis of his recent voting record, which shows he's still more politically moderate and less supportive of Bush than Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"Nothing galls me more than to have her come to you and say I've changed," Shays said. "That's bogus."

Shays finds himself in the cross-hairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a fund-raising entity for congressional candidates. Shays and Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons' races are among the DCCC's top targets in the nation.

It is the first time Shays has been targeted. It also is the first time he has faced such a well-financed, well-known and well-organized opponent, Democrats say.

"There is momentum building and that's what you really want at this stage of the game," Farrell said.

Farrell, first selectman of Westport, has been on the offensive since January. She has raised more than $1 million and attracted national attention after being endorsed by EMILY's List, a political action committee that helps Democratic women.

She has aired television ads and purchased billboard space along Interstate 95, suggesting that Shays and the gridlock in Washington, D.C. are to blame for the gridlock on the highway.

"Diane Farrell has been the strongest candidate we've had in this district," said DCCC spokesman Greg Speed. "It's fair to say that we see this as one of the best opportunities to beat an incumbent in the country."

U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that Shays faces a strong challenger, but said he believes the incumbent congressman _ a frequent guest on the Larry King Show and other national news programs _ will successfully weather the storm.

"This is the first time that there has been someone who has raised some money and begun to articulate some issues using that money," Reynolds said. "Chris Shays has also risen to the occasion, and has moved forward in raising hard money dollars there. I think he's doing fine."

Following the campaign stop in Redding, Shays said he feels confident that he's done a good job for the district and has represented his constituents well. He said he has worked seven days a week since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The only way they have a chance (to win) is to make me something I'm not, and it sticks," Shays said.

When on the stump, Farrell tells people that if they vote for Shays, they cast three votes: One for Shays, one for House Speaker Dennis Hastert and one for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"His presence as a member of the majority enables the conservative faction to control the national agenda, and fundamentally, this is what it's all about," said Farrell, encouraged the 4th District supported former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and not Bush.

Farrell also points to a Congressional Quarterly analysis that showed Shays voting the Republican party line 76 percent of the time in 2003. In 1987, he voted with the GOP 53 percent of the time.

"He has changed, whether he sees it or not," she said. "There's nothing to distort. His record is his record."

Shays points out that the same analysis shows McCain voting with the GOP 86 percent of the time in 2003. Meanwhile, Connecticut U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joe Lieberman voted 95 percent and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro voted 99 percent with the Democrats.

He also shows reporters a National Journal analysis of his 2003 votes that indicates he voted in a conservative way 46 percent of the time and 54 percent in a liberal way.

But Farrell argues that Shays can't be effective as a moderate in Washington because he's "swimming against the tide" of his party, which doesn't reflect the views of Fairfield County voters. And she faults Shays for not doing enough to battle his party on key social issues such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, which both Shays and Farrell support.

"It's all well and good to disavow," Farrell said. "If he were really committed to fighting for these issues, he'd be challenging his party."

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press

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Story Source: Newsday

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