Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
Connecticut 4th – Rep. Jim Himes (D) is seeking a 2nd term
Primary: August 10, 2010
Location: Southwestern Connecticut/NYC suburbs
Days until Election Day: 52
Before Democrat Jim Himes unseated Rep. Chris Shays in 2008, the moderate Republican incumbent had developed a reputation for fending off tough Democratic challenges in Connecticut's left-leaning 4th Congressional District. In nearly all of Shays' ten elections, he faced strong Democratic candidates, and before losing to Himes, he had beaten them all, many by narrow margins.
Himes drew the attention and financial backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2008, and with the help of a boost in Democratic turnout driven by Barack Obama's historic candidacy, he beat Shays by more than 10,000 votes.
Now it's reelection time, and although Himes is lucky that Shays isn't trying to reclaim his seat, he won't have the luxury of national Democratic coattails to help drive voters to the polls. In 2008, voter turnout in the state's largest city of Bridgeport, which lies on the southern side of the 4th congressional district, was more than twice as high as in the 2006 midterm elections.
If turnout this November drops back to 2006 levels, Himes may have to face off against two-term State Senator Dan Debicella without the benefit of nearly 20,000 voters from heavily Democratic Bridgeport.
Debicella is running as a social moderate and a fiscal conservative. His most recent television ad features a woman describing the state senator as "pro-choice," before saying that he knows "protecting the rights of women is important." On his web site, Debicella brags about the two "no tax increase" budgets he authored in the state senate. Born and raised in Connecticut, Debicella's experience prior to state politics was primarily in the private sector, and he holds degrees from both Wharton and Harvard Business School. He worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. and ran a small internet startup selling textbooks online.
Himes had quite a different upbringing. Born in Lima, Peru, where his father worked in international development, Himes moved back to the United States with his mother when his parents divorced, settling in the northern suburbs of Trenton, New Jersey. He speaks fluent Spanish, and after studying at Harvard, then Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, Himes carried his interest in Latin America to Goldman Sachs, where worked on telecommunications technology in the region.
Himes left Wall Street in 2002 to run the Northeast offices of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit focused on addressing the problems of urban poverty. Though no longer in high finance, his friends from his previous career proved crucial to his 2008 congressional bid. Using his Wall Street connections and the help of national Democrats, Himes managed to out-raise the ten-term incumbent by nearly $100,000.
As of June 30, Himes was on pace to possibly surpass his 2006 total, having raised more than $2.5 million to Debicella's $800,000. More than a third of Himes' donations have come from political action committees, and overall he's received roughly $800,000 from the finance, insurance and real estate sector. In contrast, as of July 21 all of Debicella's money has come from individual donations.
Himes' support from the financial sector isn't entirely surprising. In addition to his time on Wall Street, his district is replete with financial executives and hedge fund managers who commute to work in New York City. Spanning the entirety of southern Connecticut from the New York border to just south of Waterbury, the 4th is the wealthiest congressional district in Connecticut, which is the wealthiest state in the country. Residents have been largely receptive to the Republicans' message of low taxes and small government. But in addition to ritzy suburbs like Stamford and Westport, the district also encompasses the more urban industrial city of Bridgeport, and when urban voters turn out, Democrats have an edge. Obama carried the district with 60 percent of the vote in 2008.
With a strong fundraising advantage and the name recognition that comes with incumbency, albeit a short one, Himes may be able to fight against this cycle's prevailing anti-Washington wind. But Himes also represents a district that sent a Republican to Congress for nearly 40 years straight prior to his election. If Dan Debicella can gain momentum, he can also be heartened by having history on his side.