Iraq Ire Puts Rep. Shay's Post In Play In Connecticut, popular opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq is stirring up a congressional race in a district the GOP once considered safe. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) is in the fight of his political career against Democrat Diane Farrel.
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Iraq Ire Puts Rep. Shay's Post In Play

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Iraq Ire Puts Rep. Shay's Post In Play

Iraq Ire Puts Rep. Shay's Post In Play

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One of the closest congressional races is in Connecticut. There, the nine-term Republican, Chris Shays, is trying to fend off a Democratic opponent who is focusing on Congressman Shays' past support for the war in Iraq.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Congressman Chris Shays put on his personalized yarmulke as he walked in to the Jewish Community Center in Stanford, Connecticut the other morning. He didn't really need the cap for religious reasons, but Shays knew it would be a hit with the seniors there for lunch.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, Good luck.

Representative CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): Thank you, sweetie.

NAYLOR: In 19 years in Congress, Shays' moderate Republicanism has reflected his diverse district, where some of the nation's wealthiest communities are just a short drive along the turnpike to neighborhoods of extreme poverty. Sitting at his silver campaign RV, Shays acknowledges that this is not an easy year to be running as a Republican of any sorts.

Representative SHAYS: George Bush isn't popular. The Republican Party isn't popular. And the war in Iraq isn't popular. So those are three issues that, without her even having to take a position, has enabled her to make this a very competitive race.

NAYLOR: Her is Diane Farrell, Shays' Democratic opponent whose opposition to the war is her campaign's focus. It's also an issue that has come to dominate Shays' career. After voting to authorize the war, Shays has made 14 trips to Iraq. After the last one, Shays said it was time to start figuring out how to bring U.S. troops home.

Representative SHAYS: I have attended five funerals in my district. I know that everyone of those soldiers lost their life because I sent them there. So, you're darn right I do a lot of agonizing. I think the administration has fought this war very poorly.

NAYLOR: Shays has called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and says the president has been ill served by his advisers. Shays often touts his willingness to cross party lines and work with Democrats in Congress. But in this heated campaign, he had a very partisan response when Farrell suggested he return campaign contributions from Speaker Dennis Hastert in the wake of the Mark Foley investigation.

Representative SHAYS: I find it pretty outrageous that my opponent would say I need to return any money that Denny Hastert helped me raise, when that very day she was having a fundraiser with Senator Kennedy who, frankly, years before did something, I think, far worse than she would be accusing Denny Hastert of.

NAYLOR: Referring to Kennedy's 1969 accident in Chappaquiddick in which a young woman died, Shays told the Hartford Courant quote, “Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody.”

Ms. DIANE FARRELL (Democratic Congressional Candidate, Connecticut): What color is the fire truck?

Unidentified Child: Red.

Ms. FARRELL: It's red. That's right.

NAYLOR: Farrell, who campaigned last week at a Stanford early education center, says the page scandal has struck home because her daughter served as a Senate page. She says the issue hasn't come up that much on the campaign trail.

Ms. FARRELL: But it seems to be another straw, so to speak, on the camel's back where people are just becoming increasingly more frustrated with the Republican leadership because it isn't just about Foley. It is about Iraq. It's about, you know, the privatization of social security. It's about No Child Left Behind. And it's about the president going unchecked.

NAYLOR: Farrell says Shays didn't change his mind on Iraq until Connecticut Democrats choose anti-war candidate Ned Lamont over Senator Joseph Lieberman in last August's Democratic Primary.

Ms. FARRELL: Congressman Shays went to Iraq 13 times and declared that progress was being made. And then we had a Democratic Primary in Connecticut where the pro-war candidate lost. And then he did some focus groups and he found out that his position have become increasingly more unpopular. And so now, he talks about a timetable without a real timetable.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

NAYLOR: Later in the day, Farrell makes a campaign stop at a Redding restaurant and lounge. There, Frank Gaul(ph), a high school band director, says he plans to vote for Farrell next month, though he supported Shays in the past - but no longer.

Mr. FRANK GAUL (High School Band Director): I think that he has aligned himself to closely with the Bush administration in the stance in Iraq, and I think it's time for a change.

NAYLOR: But Jeff Chilson, a money manager from NewTown, says he will vote to re-elect Shays, citing national security as his main concern.

Mr. JEFF CHILSON (Money Manager): You know, while I'm not positive I agree with everything that President Bush is doing, I think something's got to be done. And I don't hear any - much alternative.

NAYLOR: Both campaigns are well funded, and the race is seen as a toss up, likely to turn on whether Shays can convince suburban voters not to take out their dissatisfaction with the war and the president on him. Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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