So who gets credit for delivering a 20,000-vote plurality for Jim Himes in Bridgeport, something that hasn’t been achieved by a Democratic congressional candidate in 40 years? If you halve that number, Himes does not win, the race was that close district wide, and incumbent Chris Shays survives another two years.
For starters, Barack Obama. No Barack, no blowout. Second, Himes, as a candidate and his campaign, did a nice job reminding voters to keep voting the Democratic line. Ballot drop-off among those voting for president and congress was minimal.
For the first time in a long time in a presidential cycle, Democratic voters did not underperform, and some pols will take credit for this. Yes, the actual percentage turnout was not as high as expected, but when you hit your target–a 20k plurality–it doesn’t matter. Shays had never earned less than 30 percent of the vote in a city election. On Tuesday just 20 percent, a product of new and first-time voters unfamiliar with the congressman.
But when you scratch the surface of assigning credit, you see the specter of the party apparatus. One of the reasons Mario Testa was able to reclaim chairmanship of the Democratic party last March was an underperforming electorate. City turnouts, particularly on a local level, had been pathetic. Himes’ overwhelming win happened on Mario’s watch. And yes, Anthony Musto’s win over Republican Rob Russo as well.
Now hold on one minute, wasn’t former chair John Stafstrom smack in the middle of the Himes operation as well? Yup. Stafstrom’s a smart operative who knows the contours of the city, and he’s very much part of the landscape with a base of support within the party. Nothing wrong with helping a guy who could end up in congress. After having a major role in Diane Farrell’s two close races against Shays, Stafstrom was doing his part for Himes.
What about Mayor Bill Finch? Hizzoner was doing a delicate mayoral two-step trying to maintain a relationship with a congressman that has delivered goodies to the city while building a relationship with the potential replacement. Let’s throw Himes a last-minute fundraiser to cover our butt.
In the spring I gave Himes a 90-minute tour of the city, offering a political backdrop of personalities, neighborhoods and voting patterns. We talked about Finch, Mario, Stafstrom and Chris Caruso, and how to maneuver without stepping on minefields. My advice: “duck.” Stay out of the petty fights, don’t pick sides and hope for the best.
It’s not easy for a candidate (and campaign staff) running for major office to figure out the political players in a city critical to the election.
Himes managed to do it without pulling shrapnel out of his ass. It’s his victory and he should savor the moment. The other guys will take credit no matter what. Isn’t that what Barack means about spreading the wealth?