The hard campaigning in the state’s 4th Congressional District will soon come to a close, but at this point it’s a neck-and-neck race between the Democrat incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and his challenger, the Republican State Senator Dan Debicella. It’s so close that President Barack Obama will go on the stump for Himes on Saturday, Oct. 30, while former President Bill Clinton will brave goblins, gremlins and gargoyles for Himes on Halloween night in Bridgeport.
At Debicella’s campaign headquarters in Norwalk on Saturday morning, staffers were huddling up to discuss the day’s strategy. Debicella’s itinerary was booked for the day (attending a homecoming football match in Greenwich, greeting shoppers at a Stop & Shop in Stamford and attending an exhibit reception in Norwalk highlighting the women’s suffrage movement), but before heading out the door he noted that the “number one” issue he’s been emphasizing is the economy.
“My opponent believes that government should drive economic growth, but I strongly believe that government’s role should be to set the rules so that middle-class and small businesses are the economy’s engine drivers.” Debicella said, if elected, he’ll repeal the remaining $400 billion worth of federal stimulus money targeted for “pork-barrel projects” and replace that sum with a $1,500 payroll tax cut for families. It amounts to “a 50 percent income tax reduction from 6 percent to 3 percent,” noted Debicella.
Citing figures published on the www.recovery.gov website, which allows online users to see how and where the stimulus money is being spent, Debicella bemoaned that the “800 jobs in Fairfield County stemming from the federal stimulus package have been created at a cost of $230,000 per job.”
But Himes sees things very differently. At a campaign office on 500 Kings Highway in Fairfield, a fact sheet lists the federal dollars Himes has successfully secured for Fairfield, such as $4.6 million for education, $800,000 for infrastructure and housing and $1.2 million for safety net and community development.
Himes said he’s not opposed to a payroll tax cut, but not at the expense of axing the remaining stimulus money. He emphasized his opponent is misrepresenting the facts. “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stipulated that roughly 38 percent of the relief package would be targeted to tax cuts. My opponent continues to claim that there is $400 billion worth of remaining federal stimulus when in fact there’s $100 billion, $40 billion of which is for tax cuts.”
As the neck-and-neck race seems to indicate, the voters in the 4th Congressional District are split over the benefits of the federal stimulus spending versus their concern about the ever increasing federal deficit.
A look at the 2008 4th Congressional District results reveal that Himes won by a margin of victory of 20 percent or more in the cities of Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford over then Republican incumbent Chris Shays.
Some claim, like Jim Campbell, Republican Town Committee Chairman of Greenwich, that Himes benefited from the upsurge of voter turnout for Obama, particularly in Bridgeport where there was a record turnout of 40,000 voters voting for Democrats. Campbell, who lives just “three doors away” from Himes, noted that Himes is vulnerable in 2010 because Obama won‘t be on the ticket. “Dan [Debicella] will win Greenwich because the voters here want controlled spending, deficit reduction and lower taxes,” Campbell said emphatically.
But there’s a good chance that Bridgeport voters may come out in droves again to vote in favor of (or against) the big federal commitment in dollars to the city. For example, a review of www.recovery.gov reveals that three Bridgeport zip code listings (06604, 06607 and 06605) have thus far received approximately $83.5 million in contracts and/or grants, although an accurate job creation total can’t be currently ascertained because the reporting period is from Jan. 1, 2010 to March 31, 2010.
In addition to the federal stimulus dollars, Himes, along with two Democratic colleagues, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, recently secured federal funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop Steel Point Harbor (the developer will match the federal grants with $18 million).
Himes noted that the Steel Point revitalization plan embodies the message he’s been conveying to voters on the campaign trail. “This district has huge transportation needs. Steel Point represents the opportunity to build transportation-oriented housing and jobs so that working families don’t have to drive to buy groceries or commute far away to their jobs.”
Speaking of working families, the Working Families Party vote may also prove critical on Nov. 2. Joe Dinkin, communications director for the Working Families Party, said that 9,130 WFP votes went to Himes in the district in ’08, and 83,000 votes were cast for Democrats statewide. Jon Green, director of Connecticut Working Families, said that the party is “working hard to reelect Himes because he is closer to the values and priorities of our members than Debicella.”
In addition to making their final rounds on the stump in the run-up to next Tuesday’s election, Debicella and Himes will face-off this week in Bridgeport, Norwalk and Fairfield to debate one another.