Jim Himes, the Democrat challenging Rep. Chris Shays in CT-04, made a strong impression in Austin, not only at the Future Leaders panel where he passionately expressed his belief in the rule of law and his fierce opposition to the recent FISA cave, but also at the candidates event where he stood out in a crowded field and at the pub quiz where he worked the room and stayed to compete. I've met Jim a few times now and I always leave feeling that, yes, he's a smart capable and passionate guy who will he be a strong Democrat in congress, but also that he can actually get there in the first place -- that he can win against the entrenched and extremely well-funded Chris Shays, aka the last Republican in New England.
Conventional wisdom is beginning to catch up with that assessment. Yesterday, Congressional Quarterly upgraded the race from "Leans Republican" to "No Clear Favorite."
Rep. Christopher Shays ' ability to withstand strong Democratic challenges even in unfavorable national climates led CQ Politics initially to rate this race as Leans Republican, but former investment banker Jim Himes is expected to present a serious challenge that will be aided by coattails from the presidential race. Diane Farrell, the former first selectwoman of Westport, was a strong candidate against Shays in 2004 and 2006, losing by less than 5 points each time. Turnout was relatively low in this southwestern district's largest city, Bridgeport, in 2006 but should be higher in 2008. Thirty percent of the city's residents are black and increased turnout for presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama could boost the Democratic ticket down ballot and help push Himes to a win. Both candidates are well funded for the contest; each raised more than $2 million as of June 30. Shays reported $1.7 million on hand by the end of June while Himes had $1.4 million by the same date.
Add to that the massive Democratic voter registration surge that's resulted from the excitement surrounding the presidential election:
Democratic voter registration is up sharply in southwestern Connecticut's 4th Congressional District, and political analysts said Friday that Republican U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays may face the toughest challenge of his career.
In fact, if city Democrats in Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford show up on Election Day in a tide of anticipated statewide urban support for Sen. Barack Obama, Shays' narrow 5,747-vote margin of 2006 could evaporate into a forced political retirement. [...]
Since Jan. 1, 11,329 new Democrats have registered in the 17-town district. Only 3,462 Republicans have signed up so far this year and only 8,299 unaffiliated voters.
Remarkably, of the more than 100,000 new voters registered in the state since January 1, 39,000 have registered since May, nearly the 40,000 that registered in the weeks leading up to the February 5th primary. And look at the demographics of those registering and you see why Shays should be afraid...very afraid.
Five months after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton drew a record turnout in the Connecticut primary, young people are still thronging to register as new voters, swelling the ranks of the state's dominant Democratic Party.
Nearly 18,000 18- to 29-year-olds have registered since May 6, with Democrats signing up 4.3 new young voters for every one that registers as a Republican, an advantage widely attributed to the generational appeal of Obama.
These registration numbers, which no doubt are replicated all over the country, are a real sign that we're in for a blue wave in 08. The question is, how many new Democrats will be swept into office as a result of it. Help make sure Jim Himes is one of them (and make sure my parents get a real representative in congress) over at Act Blue.