Republicans hope for revival in New England

Connecticut Republican Dan Debicella sees a GOP revival in New England that he says will help him defeat freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.).

"I think you're going to see a resurgence of centrist Republicans, which is what our party needs," Debicella told The Ballot Box.

Propelled by a favorable national headwind, Republicans have a shot at picking up several House seats in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — states that have been hostile territory for the GOP in recent cycles.

"Our party is never going to be a majority party without having New England seats and without having moderate Republican seats," said Debicella, a state lawmaker making his first run for Congress.

The rebirth of a centrist wing of the Republican Party is happening alongside the rise of the Tea Party movement, which pushed some candidates to the right during the GOP primaries. 

Should he win, Debicella said he isn't concerned about newly-elected centrist Republicans clashing with their more conservative colleagues.

"As long as we stay focused on economic issues, there's no difference between the moderates and the conservatives," he said. "If the far right insists on trying to push through a conservative social agenda, that’s when there’s going to be a split."

Debicella said he'd side with Democrats on some social issues. "I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-stem-cell research. I actually think the Republicans were wrong in the Senate to filibuster the repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell.' "

Connecticut's 4th district, where Debicella is running, was home to the GOP's last member of Congress from New England.  

Former Rep. Chris Shays (R) held the seat for 10 terms before losing to Himes in 2008. Since his defeat, Shays has moved to Maryland, but he's returned on weekends to campaign for Debicella. "We've campaigned together in a couple of different events around here," he said.

Shays is also appearing in a TV ad for Debicella, noting that his Democratic successor has voted "with Nancy Pelosi 94 percent of the time."

That "does not meet my test for independence," Shays says in the spot. "And I can’t imagine it meets yours."

Himes won by three points in 2008, when President Obama carried the district with 60 percent of the vote. Now, observers say Debicella could be helped by Obama's low approval rating. Connecticut voters are split, 47 percent to 47 percent, on Obama's job approval, which could be a drag on Himes.

"It's a classic swing district," said Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, which surveyed Obama's approval rating. Himes "is the kind of Democrat who's most vulnerable because he came in with Obama and the president is not that popular in Connecticut right now."

That isn’t stopping Obama from campaigning in Connecticut. The president is holding a rally in Bridgeport on Oct. 30 and Himes's camp said he plans to attend.

One of the major issues in the 4th district — considered the wealthiest in the country — is the fate of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

Both candidates favor extending the current tax rate beyond January 2011, when the cuts are set to expire. But Debicella said the difference between their positions comes down to "believability."

He noted that Himes wasn't among the 39 Democrats who voted against adjourning the House in September before an extension was voted on.



"Jim did what he always does and voted with Nancy Pelosi," Debicella said. "Instead of voting with the 39 moderate Democrats, like Jim likes to claim he is, instead he votes with Pelosi. That's what this election comes down to.

"If Jim had been a true moderate, Jim would probably be very strong right now," he added. "Because he’s just rubber-stamped the agenda, that’s why his reelect number is 42 percent. People don’t like that."

The Himes campaign said the Democrat has "broken with his party on key issues like spending and ethics," and accused Debicella of "playing politics" with the tax issue because the Senate never planned to vote on the extension before recessing.

"Dan Debicella has one of the very most partisan records in Hartford, and when he breaks with his party, it's not to support a proposal of the other party, it's to go even further to the extreme, for instance, voting against requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims," Elizabeth Kerr, a spokeswoman for Himes, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Debicella said if the GOP reclaims the majority, the party has two years to prove itself.

“We’re going to be judged on two things," he said. "We're going to be judged on the economy and we're going to be judged on the deficit. If two years from now, the economy still has 9 percent unemployment and the deficit is still over a trillion dollars, then we've failed."

Debicella said he would vote to repeal the healthcare bill, but didn't expect the GOP to succeed in scrapping the legislation.

"Are we going to get that done in the next two years? No," he said. "The president is going to veto any attempt to repeal and we’re not going to have two-thirds. So this is going to set up the debate for the 2012 election."

He noted many of the provisions in the bill go online in 2014.

"I think we can absolutely lay out the arguments for what we should replace it with so that the debate becomes that much more crystallized in the presidential election," he said.