It’s not easy being a Republican in Connecticut even when you’re running in a swing district known for being generous to political candidates.
State Rep. John Shaban, a Republican from Redding who is challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th Congressional District, said the traditional Republican donors stopped giving money when it was obvious Donald Trump would be the party’s nominee.
“A lot of traditional Republican check writers who raised all that money previously bet hard on Jeb Bush, and when Trump crushed him they took their checkbooks and ran off the field,” Shaban said.
Through the end of June, Shaban was able to raise about $91,000, far short of what Republican challengers in the 4th Congressional District have raised in past election cycles.
Two years ago in 2014, Dan Debicella, a former state Senator from Shelton, was able to raise about $1.2 million. Himes defeated him that year by more than 14,900 votes.
Himes has raised about $1.6 million for his re-election bid this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports through the end of June. In 2014, he spent about $2.6 million on his re-election effort. The Rhodes Scholar defeated Chris Shays in 2008 with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.
It’s unclear what impact this year’s presidential candidates will have on Connecticut’s congressional races.
Shaban, who supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president, said he doesn’t believe Trump or even party affiliation will impact his race.
“I’m running as John Shaban the father and the football coach, not John Shaban the Republican,” Shaban said in a recent interview.
Shaban said he’s talking to voters about how much Connecticut taxpayers send the federal government and what the state could do with that money if it was able to keep it.
“We’re constantly coming up short” on funding for schools and roads because the federal government gives the state about 65 cents back on the dollar and then tells the state how to spend the money, he said. He argues the state would be better off it was able to keep the funding in Connecticut.
Shaban, who is a partner in the Whitman Breed law firm in Greenwich, said the biggest challenge he’s been facing is trying to engage Himes.
The two will face each other in back-to-back debates on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 in Wilton and Stamford. A third debate is in the works, according to Himes’ campaign.
Shaban pointed out that the confirmed debates are both in the western part of the district.
“He’s hiding from Bridgeport,” Shaban alleged.
Rowan Kane, Himes’ deputy campaign manager, said his candidate is not hiding from Bridgeport.
“It’s true that none of the debates this cycle are scheduled in Bridgeport, but the Congressman’s offices are located right downtown on State Street, where he and his staff meet with and assist Bridgeport residents on a daily basis,” Kane said.
Kane said Himes is looking forward to three debates, which is the same number of debates being held by the presidential candidates this year.
This year has not followed past political scripts even when it comes to the 4th Congressional District.
For the first time, Himes’ name won’t appear twice on the ballot because he didn’t receive the cross-endorsement of the Working Families Party. The party has not been happy with Himes’ support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
Shaban, who was also endorsed by the Independent Party, said Himes has previously done more debates with past Republican opponents.
Shaban, who has been releasing quirky online YouTube ads with the small amount of money he’s been able to raise, said Himes won’t set foot in Bridgeport to talk about urban redevelopment.
Shaban’s most recent online ad depicts Himes as a character in Pokemon Go, a game where users search for cartoon characters using their phone. The ad asks if anyone has seen Himes in the district. The last stop is at the Congress Street Bridge in Bridgeport, which received federal funding in 2009 to be demolished, but has never been rebuilt.
Shaban, who located his central campaign headquarters in Bridgeport, and is the founder of a Bridgeport nonprofit and a youth football team, hasn’t shied away from what is traditionally viewed as a Democratic stronghold.
“The folks in Bridgeport are the same as the folks in Darien and the same as the folks in Monroe, they’re all looking for solutions,” Shaban said.
Shaban believes he has more of those solutions than Himes. He’s just struggling to engage the four-term Congressman with the little time he has left.