I must say that last night’s debate between 4th district incumbent Chris Shays and challenger Jim Himes was one of the strangest I’ve seen.
On the day that a new poll showed Himes pulling slightly ahead in the race,
the two faced off on the stage of the Quick Center at Fairfield University. Ray Hardman and I hosted a two-hour special, broadcast live on WNPR and CPTV (look for downloadable audio soon), the debate was moderated by Fairfield professor Philip Eliasoph, and
the questions were asked by students.
After two earlier debates that turned testy on accusations of negative campaigning, this one generally had a more civil tone. Perhaps, that was because Congressman Shays was prepared with an 80-something page script, which he asked audience members to follow along with. It contained what Shays called “his record”
and he used it to rebut claims by Himes, and bolster key talking points. The bemused crowd (made up of a mix of mostly Fairfield U. Republicans and older residents supporting Himes) leafed through on Shays instructions, as though reading from the Psalms.
Himes attacks were largely echoes of Barack Obamas’ debate performances against John McCain. He challenged Shays’ 21 years in the House, his allegiance to the Bush administration, and his failure to deliver for the district – saying “results
Shays, for his part, repeatedly invoked Obama’s name – even going so far as to predict a win for the Democrat in November. A bit strange coming from the Connecticut co-chair of John McCain’s campaign, but in keeping with Shays’ tendency to say just about anything.
Remember, his first ad this campaign season compared himself to Obama.)
As the Connecticut Post’s Ken Dixon reports, the candidates
spent time talking about local issues, like transportation and rebuilding cities like Bridgeport, but also addressed the Iraq war, service to the nation and the economy. Oh yeah, the economy…
While both men talked about the bailout bill, and next steps to solve the financial crisis, there wasn’t much in the way of specific plans. That prompted two angry outbursts from the audience – each man wanted them to address “the issues” instead of answering a question from the student Republicans about investigations into the conduct of New York Congressman Charles Rangel. That gentleman got into a heated discussion with Shays after the debate. It was being videotaped, and will obviously be on YouTube at some point. Watch here for details…
Mark Pazniokas of the Courant was also there, and
here’s his report. Mark told me he gave up his tickets to watch the Red Sox at Fenway to be there. Good call, Mark...