Connecticut Republicans running away from the Chimpster.
STAMFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) – Republican Rep. Christopher Shays cites his differences with President George W. Bush, produces a chart outlining his moderate voting record and pledges his independence from party leaders in Congress.
His Connecticut colleague, Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, says working with Democrats comes naturally in a district where voters favored Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry over Bush by 10 percentage points in 2004.
For Shays, Simmons and other Republicans running for Congress in Democratic-leaning or swing districts in November, playing down their party label and playing up their independence has become a matter of political survival in a year when “Bush” can be a dirty word.
“This would not be a close election if George Bush was popular. This would not be a close election if there wasn’t a war in Iraq,” said Shays, who is embroiled in a tight race with Democrat Dianne Farrell.
“The president isn’t doing well, and that’s hurting me,” the 19-year House veteran, who distances himself from Bush but enthusiastically supports the Iraq war, told Reuters.
“The reality of my district is if we play partisan politics we lose,” said Simmons, who takes pride in representing one of the most Democratic districts in Republican hands in the country.
As Republicans in Democratic-majority districts, Shays and Simmons are prime examples of the sort of incumbents Democrats must beat in November if they hope to pick up the 15 seats needed to reclaim control of the House of Representatives.
“Chris Shays is a Republican, and that R after his name is important because he supports the Republican leadership. If he goes back to Washington, his first vote will be for Dennis Hastert as speaker,” Farrell said in an interview in her Westport headquarters.
“He enables the majority to pursue its agenda, and its agenda is out of step with the citizens of this district,” said the former Westport mayor, who lost a close race against Shays in 2004 but is back for a rematch.