2006.10.22: October 22, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: San Francisco Chronicle: Anti-war mood could unseat Shays

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Fiji: Special Report: Former Congressman Chris Shays: RPCV Congressman Chris Shays: Newest Stories: 2006.08.31: August 31, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: New York Times: Congessman Chris Shays Shifts to Favor an Iraq Timetable : 2006.10.22: October 22, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: San Francisco Chronicle: Anti-war mood could unseat Shays

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Anti-war mood could unseat Shays

Anti-war mood could unseat Shays

Shays has been taking heat recently for his shifting views on the war. He has long opposed setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, saying as recently as this summer that leaving prematurely "would be an absolute outrage." But after his 14th trip to Iraq in August, he changed his mind, arguing that a firm timeline was needed to force Iraqis to broker a deal to end the sectarian violence. And earlier this month, Shays called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of stonewalling his committee's requests for documents about the conduct of the war. The trouble for Shays is that his latest statements on Iraq looked opportunistic, coming just weeks after Lamont's stunning victory in the Aug. 8 primary showed the anger of Connecticut voters over the war. Farrell dubbed Shays' shift "an election-year conversion." Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in the 1960's.

Anti-war mood could unseat Shays

Anti-war mood could unseat GOP stalwart

Connecticut's Rep. Shays tries to shift his stance

Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Thursday, October 19, 2006

(10-19) 04:00 PDT Stamford, Conn. -- During his 19 years in Congress, Republican Rep. Chris Shays has been seen as a good fit for this district of wealthy suburbs north of New York City, from his penny loafers and Brooks Brothers shirts to his support of President Bush's tax cuts and his more liberal stands on abortion, gun control and the environment.

But Shays' chances for re-election have eroded steadily over one issue: Iraq. While the veteran lawmaker has steadfastly defended the war since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, his constituents have grown increasingly opposed to the war and its costs in dollars and lives.

Shays, in a recent interview, acknowledged his support for the war could cost him his seat. "It wouldn't be a close election if it wasn't for Iraq," he said. "I have one of the most anti-war districts in the country."

The Iraq conflict is roiling congressional races from coast to coast, but nowhere is it having more of an impact than in Connecticut. Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman was beaten in his party's primary by an anti-war challenger, Ned Lamont, and now is running as an independent. The war and Bush's sagging popularity also threaten the House seats of two of the state's other Republican moderates, Rep. Nancy Johnson and Rep. Rob Simmons.

"It's all of Connecticut, not just this district," said Eileen Heaphy, executive director of the World Affairs Forum in Stamford. "This is the major issue for this election. And Chris has been so visible on it nationally. He's made 14 trips to Iraq, and the newspapers always report on his trips. He's a lightning rod because of his role on the issue."

The race is rated one of the 25 closest in the country by congressional analysts. Democrats, who see the seat as crucial to their hopes of retaking the House, are running a strong challenger: Diane Farrell, who served as a local council member for eight years and in 2004 was narrowly defeated by Shays.

Shays is one of Congress' foremost experts on Iraq policy, serving as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations. He likes to remind voters that he has held almost 100 hearings on counterterrorism and the war.

But Shays has been taking heat recently for his shifting views on the war. He has long opposed setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, saying as recently as this summer that leaving prematurely "would be an absolute outrage." But after his 14th trip to Iraq in August, he changed his mind, arguing that a firm timeline was needed to force Iraqis to broker a deal to end the sectarian violence.

And earlier this month, Shays called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of stonewalling his committee's requests for documents about the conduct of the war.

The trouble for Shays is that his latest statements on Iraq looked opportunistic, coming just weeks after Lamont's stunning victory in the Aug. 8 primary showed the anger of Connecticut voters over the war. Farrell dubbed Shays' shift "an election-year conversion."

"If he had come out, say on his third or his fourth trip to Iraq, and said, 'We have a very serious problem here,' he would have ensured his re-election, in my opinion," said John Orman, a political science professor at Connecticut's Fairfield University, who now sees the race tipping slightly in Farrell's favor. "But he just kept saying, 'I support the war, I support the president.' "

A Quinnipiac University poll in September found that Connecticut voters, by 55 to 25 percent, believe the United States is losing the war in Iraq. Thirty-five percent called it the most important issue in next month's elections.

Shays still has formidable strengths in the race. He's secured hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money for local transportation and community projects. He has a record as an effective legislator, having helped pass a landmark change in campaign finance law that bears his name and a bipartisan measure that created the Sept. 11 commission.

He also has a deep well of support in a district he has represented for 19 years in Congress and before that, for 14 years in the Connecticut state house.

At a recent Columbus Day dinner hosted by local Italian American groups, Shays strolled into a banquet worthy of Tony Soprano, with crystal chandeliers, green, white and red balloons and a band playing Frank Sinatra. Shays, a natural-born schmoozer, kissed the women on the cheek, embraced a Roman Catholic priest and thanked a local Italian grocer for letting him campaign outside his stores. Then he and his wife, Betsi, took the stage and danced to the song, "Shake Your Booty."

"There have been very few dinners or graduations or funerals that he's missed," said Joe Richichi, former president of the Italian Center in Stamford. "He didn't just come off the street to make an appearance tonight. He's been here hundreds of times."

Shays' strategy is clear from his billboards along Interstate 95 and his campaign mailers, which never mention that he's a Republican but label him an "independent" and a "reformer who gets results." He boasts that he was the first Republican lawmaker to call for former GOP House leader Tom DeLay of Texas to resign and to criticize the Bush administration for failing to provide enough body armor for U.S. troops.

"At a hearing (last month), I had Sunnis, Shias and Kurds come in to testify," he said in an interview. "Tell me another member of Congress who brings in Sunnis, Shias and Kurds to testify."

But Shays may have met his match in Farrell, a 51-year-old former account executive for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. A mother of two college-age daughters, she has proven to be a shrewd campaigner. She has relentlessly linked Shays to the failures in Iraq and to Bush's policies. Even when asked about education or Medicare, she reminds voters more money would be available for social needs if America wasn't spending $250 million a day in Iraq.

At a recent campaign stop in Bridgeport, she sought to poke holes in Shays' image as a moderate. She noted that his opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and his support for a higher minimum wage are undermined by his repeated votes to elect GOP leaders in the House who oppose those policies.

"In the 19 years that Chris Shays has served in Congress, has the Republican Party become: A) more liberal, B) more moderate, or C) more conservative," she asked. "Chris has obviously had very little influence on his own party, because they've clearly become more conservative."

The race is quickly becoming one of the most expensive in the nation. Records show that Shays has raised $3.2 million and Farrell $2.5 million as of Sept. 30. The Republican and Democratic congressional campaign committees also are spending heavily on negative ads and mailers.

Despite his experience, Shays has stumbled recently because of his own gaffes. At a debate last week, he said the abuse by U.S. soldiers of captives at Abu Ghraib prison wasn't torture but a "sex ring" -- a comment that drew a rebuke from Amnesty International. He later acknowledged the behavior was degrading and constituted torture.

Shays also defended House Speaker Dennis Hastert's handling of the congressional page sex scandal by citing the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident in which a young woman was drowned in a car driven by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Shays said: "I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water and then have a press conference the next day. Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody." Analysts said the normally mild-mannered Shays is flashing his temper under the strain of a tight campaign.

Interviews with commuters at a Westport rail station on a recent crisp fall evening showed that the district's voters remain sharply divided on the race.

Joyce Riccio, an attorney from Westport, said she's a Republican who dislikes Bush and supports Democrats on most issues. But she likes Shays and will vote for him again this year because "he's a nonpartisan. He'll vote for a Republican cause, and he'll vote for a Democratic cause, whatever he thinks is right."

Peter Holland, a federal worker from Westport, is a Democrat who has voted for Shays in past elections. But he's backing Farrell because he likes the job she's done as a local elected official in Westport. He added: "Mr. Shays is very nice, but I don't like the war. I don't think we ever should have been there."

Fairfield University's Orman said the district's breakdown of voters -- 500,000 Republicans, 800,000 Democrats and 900,000 independents -- narrowly favors Democrats. "In the past, when push came to shove, independents often just meant moderate Republicans who were afraid to write down Republican ... so Chris would always win," Orman said.

"But now a lot of those people, moderate independents in an affluent district, are against the war in Iraq. They like Chris as a friend, he's been there for 19 years, he's done great constituent service ... But on the issue of the war in Iraq, for many people Chris comes up really short."

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