2006.11.12: November 12, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: New York Times: Shays won re-election the hard way

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Fiji: Special Report: Former Congressman Chris Shays: RPCV Congressman Chris Shays: Newest Stories: 2006.11.09: November 9, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: Wilton Bulletin: While Republican representatives across the nation were swept aside by a tidal wave of Democrat wins, Republican Chris Shays held on to his Fourth Congressional District seat : 2006.11.12: November 12, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Fiji: Politics: Congress: New York Times: Shays won re-election the hard way

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Shays won re-election the hard way

Shays won re-election the hard way

He won the race the hard way. He had a highly regarded, well-funded opponent. He supported the war in Iraq, if not the way it was executed. He agreed to take part in 11 debates. He did not run negative ads. He lost most of the key newspaper endorsements. His district, the Fourth, was solidly antiwar. “By being willing to lose the election, I won the election,” Mr. Shays said. “Because from the start I was willing to lose rather than to win the wrong way. And I think of some of my colleagues that have lost around the country, and I think, boy, I would never want to go out that way." Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in the 1960's.

Shays won re-election the hard way

A Survivor Reflects on Political Casualties, and Real Ones

Thomas McDonald for The New York Times

Sitting in the sun on the balcony of his house overlooking the Long Island Sound on Thursday, Representative Christopher Shays rubbed his eyes, rubbed his temples, jumped up to take a congratulatory call from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and plopped back wearily into a white plastic chair.

Like the only survivor of a hotel fire, he was a little hesitant to draw too many conclusions but glad he was alive.

“I’m only two days into this,” said Mr. Shays, after narrowly beating Diane G. Farrell to keep the seat in Congress he has held since 1987. “The first day you try to get your sleep. The second day you try to think about what happened to your friends.”

Many of them were the Republicans who were washed out to sea in the Democratic tide. Mr. Shays was one of the few Republicans among perhaps two dozen seen as vulnerable back in September who managed to survive. He was the only one of the three Republican incumbents from Connecticut who won re-election. When he went to Congress, he was one of nine Republican representatives from the six New England states. In the next Congress, he will be the only one.

And he won the race the hard way. He had a highly regarded, well-funded opponent. He supported the war in Iraq, if not the way it was executed. He agreed to take part in 11 debates. He did not run negative ads. He lost most of the key newspaper endorsements. His district, the Fourth, was solidly antiwar.

Some things you can learn from a guy who bucked the tide and won. Some you can’t. Mr. Shays no doubt benefited from his reputation for being an effective congressman and for a maverick’s image going back to the State Legislature in the mid-1980s. He has burnished that image in Congress ever since he got there.

He showed up at every campaign event with a 54-page booklet of positions, votes, achievements and federal spending in the district — not sexy but informative. He was able to convince people, in a way that the state’s two other Republicans, Nancy L. Johnson and Rob Simmons, were not, that if they wanted change, he was still enough of an outsider to offer it. He ran without apology on the war, saying it was a noble effort that had been botched but could still be saved. And he rejected the notion of a consultant-driven, cookie-cutter campaign with the requisite attack ads. He ran the campaign his way, and he made it work.

“By being willing to lose the election, I won the election,” Mr. Shays said. “Because from the start I was willing to lose rather than to win the wrong way. And I think of some of my colleagues that have lost around the country, and I think, boy, I would never want to go out that way.”

Of course, one voter’s maverick may be one colleague’s grandstanding egotist. It’s likely that some of Mr. Shays’s fellow party members were more eager to keep his seat Republican than to see the guy sitting in it be re-elected. But he figures that if ever the party needs in-house critics, it’s now.

“We lost our moral authority to lead,” he said. “Power in and of itself does not justify holding power.”

He said that when the party looked the other way at its ethical failings over the years, it was ambling toward disaster that finally arrived in the House page scandal.

“As soon as Foley came up, I knew it. You could feel it. I said, ‘We’re dead.’ ”

BUT, of course, there were casualties that mattered a lot more than the election ones.

“I don’t know how you’ll react to this, but I also want to say this,” he said on Tuesday night in his victory speech, interrupting the election night ritualistic hoopla with a jolt of reality. He read four names: “Wilfredo Perez. Tyanna Avery-Felder. Jack Dempsey. Nicholas Maderas. I sent them to Iraq, and they came home draped in American flags.

“I think about them almost every day of my life. And when the press talked about how tormented I must feel,” he said, referring to the possibility of losing the election, “they just didn’t get it. They just didn’t get it. The only torment I feel is for those families. And I pray that we can make it right for these families, and that we will find a way to have our men and women come home from success not failure, but that we find a way to bring them home.”

No one who knows him doubts his sincerity. But no one knows better than Mr. Shays that good intentions can be trumped by bad results. He knows in the end he will be judged more on what happens in the war fought by Specialist Perez, Specialist Avery-Felder, Corporal Dempsey and Private Maderas than on whether he ran a perfect race and held off Ms. Farrell, withstood the raging tides and kept his seat two more years.

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com

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