Jim Himes is vying for a second consecutive term representing Connecticut in the 4th Congressional District. On Saturday, he stopped at the waterfront home of Michael and Michele Mount in Monroe to talk about the campaign during an informal meeting with town Democrats.
Republican businessman Steve Obsitnik is challenging Himes and the two candidates will lock horns in three debates before the election is decided on Nov. 6.
"I'm feeling optimistic," Himes said of his chances. "My constituents have come to know me as independent and thoughtful, whether they agree with me on every issue."
Himes' said his latest internal polling data shows him "substantially ahead" of Obsitnik, but he said one can never take winning the 4th District for granted.
He believes Obsitnik has done a poor job of defining where he stands on several key issues.
"He's not clear on Medicare vouchers and he refuses to say whether he supports the Republican budget," Himes said of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget proposal."
On Monday, Amanda Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Obsitnik Campaign, responded to some of the comments made by Himes and his supporters at the Monroe gathering.
"Steve has been pretty definitive, but the Himes Campaign has been pushing this narrative that Steve hasn't been taking positions," Bergen said. "They must not be listening, because Steve has been pretty specific about what he wants to do as far as preserving and protecting Medicare to reduce and balance the budget and to simplify the tax code."
Himes said he opposes Medicare vouchers, because the medical costs outpace the rate of consumer inflation and the Congressional Budget Office found that seniors would end up writing $6,000 checks that they cannot afford. Bergen said Obsitnik also opposes it, adding Obsitnik wants Medicare to remain the same for those age 55 and older. But she said changes must be made to keep the program solvent for future generations.
"Steve believes we need to put all options on the table and work together like grown ups in a bipartisan manner to come up with the best system instead of bickering," Bergen said.
Himes opposes the Ryan budget. When asked for Obsitnik's position on it, Bergen said, "Steve believes in a bipartisan solution to our fiscal disaster and he is willing to look at all options from anyone with ideas to share. Jim Himes has yet to propose his own plan. All we heard from him is empty rhetoric and blind partisanship."
Both sides tried to paint the other candidate as a rubber stamp for their own political party, while touting their own as being independent.
"Jim Himes is one of the least independent people in Congress," Bergen said. "Facts are the facts. He voted the party line 94% of the time. Steve has come out before party leaders on where he differs with the Republican Party. That's on women's reproductive rights and immigration."
While Himes believes he has a "substantial lead", Bergen says the two candidates are neck-and-neck as the race heads toward the finish. Obsitnik's momentum "exploded" last week when he was one of 40 candidates that the National Republican Congressional Committee named a "Young Gun", named for someone the committee sees as "one of the most promising and electable candidates in the country," according to Bergen.
Bergen claims Himes' "baseless attacks" on Obsitnik shows he's getting nervous. With 9% unemployment in Connecticut and "gas prices that have more than doubled since he got into office," Bergen said, "The bottom line is Jim Himes has failed."
Obsitnik and Himes have had one debate on Oct. 10 and three more are scheduled:
- The Business Council of Fairfield County, The Bridgeport Regional Business Council and The Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce sponsored debate on Oct. 18 from 1-2 p.m. at Norwalk Inn & Conference Center, 99 East Avenue in Norwalk.
- The League of Women Voters sponsored debate on Oct. 28 from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Clune Auditorium of Wilton High School, 395 Danbury Road in Wilton.
- The AARP sponsored debate on Nov. 2, from 10-11 a.m. at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn, at 1070 Main Street in Bridgeport.
A Stop in Monroe
Himes mingled in the Mounts' kitchen over cookies and crackers with a small crowd that included Monroe Democratic Town Committee Chairman Nick Kapoor, Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin, Inland Wetlands Commissioner Dan Hunsburger, Board of Education member Dr. Alan Vaglivello and former Monroe first selectman Karen Burnaska — now serving on the Conservation Commission.
Everyone eventually moved into the living room, where Himes spoke about the election and what's going on in Washington before answering questions.
Himes said concerns over job creation in tough economic times has dominated what he has heard from people along the campaign trail.
"We have to get a budget deal done, so we have a path to reducing our deficits and debt," Himes said of other issues important to him.
From asking millionaires to pay more to the possible elimination of the tax deduction on home mortgages favored by the middle class should be considered in any negotiation, according to Himes.
"The wealthiest Americans are going to have to contribute to this national project for stability. Everything has to be on the table and up for negotiation," he said, adding of the mortgage deduction, "But we have to be careful about making any changes in housing because of the weak market."
Now three-and-a-half weeks from the election, Himes said people may start to feel a little fatigued, but added, "We can't let that happen in one of the most important elections in our lifetime. No one knows what Mitt Romney stands for. No one knows, if we elect him, if we'll get Massachusetts Gov. Romney or Conservative Romney."
Himes called Ryan Romney's "high priest" of finance with a budget proposal that would cut trillions, but not touch the wealthiest nor the military. Himes said, "That leaves everything else to cut." All domestic programs would be "dramatically squeezed", according to Himes.
The Congressman said the Ryan camp's view of "You are on your own", is "not consistent with how we grew to greatness in this country." Himes, who went to public school, said everyone has gotten help along the way.
"After the election, I think we'll end up with a muddle," Himes said. "The Republicans won't sweep and the Democrats won't sweep it. With the exception of the crazy Far Right, I think most will realize, 'We have four years, so lets get something done.'"
Himes does not believe a new spirit of cooperation will move both political parties to work together. The fact that the country is heading toward a "fiscal cliff" unless a budget agreement can avoid another major recession is what will force action, he said.
Though the country should reduce the deficit, Himes said it also must invest in things that make America prosperous, such as transportation and education. The No Child Left Behind Act will soon be up for re-authorization, he said.
Immigration and energy are also big issues, according to Himes.
Stressing the importance of this election, Himes noted that the next President will most likely be appointing the next two Supreme Court Justices.
'We Want You to Win'
After Himes answered questions in the Mounts' living room, Burnaska said, "We want you to win." Her strong support was echoed by others at the weekend get-together.
Kapoor said, "Jim Himes has been awarded the Economic Patriot Award from the Concord Coalition. He is a rising star, according to Washingtonian Magazine and was one of only 38 Congressman to support a bipartisan budget compromise in the House. These awards and his working across the aisle is what makes him a great leader in this district. His opponent has been vague and non-committal and would be another Republican vote, while Jim Himes is independent, bipartisan and reads the bill."
Michele Mount said she and her husband first got to know Himes during his first Congressional campaign. During that time, Michele Mount was running for state representative in the 112th District.
"He shared his views and they squared with mine," Michele said. "Jim stayed true to his values and he remains in it for the people."
Michael said, "I sat down with Jim outside these events and he impressed me as an innovator and he's a Rhodes Scholar."
He also believes Himes' financial background serves him well in his position. "He's not a career politician," Michael Mount said. "He's a true social servant doing it because he can right now."