Nine-term Republican Rep. Chris Shays fended off a strong challenge in Fairfield County's 4th Congressional District Tuesday from Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell, while in the 2nd District, Rep. Rob Simmons, a two-term Republican, beat Democratic opponent Jim Sullivan, a former Norwich city councilman.
The two Connecticut races were considered among the three-dozen most competitive races for the Republican-controlled Congress. Shays and Simmons, both moderate Republicans, faced strong opponents who painted them as Bush clones who voted in lockstep with the GOP leadership.
The races attracted attention from the national political parties, and visits from a host of celebrities ranging from actor Paul Newman — who campaigned for Farrell — to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who stopped in the state twice to stump for Shays.
Both Republicans were hoping to overcome strong anti-Bush votes expected in their districts, where Democrat John Kerry had double-digit leads in polls leading up to the election.
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. John Larson faced off against Republican John Halstead in an attempt to win a fourth term; Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro was running for an eighth term against Republican Richter Elser, and Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson ran for a 12th term against former Democratic state Rep. Theresa Gerratana.
Going into the election, Republicans held a 227-205 edge in the U.S. House, with one independent and two vacancies.
Both Shays and Sullivan were depicted in ads and mailings as loyal Republicans who consistently follow their GOP leaders. But the two moderates are known for breaking with their party leaders on a host of issues ranging from the environment and abortion to campaign finance reform and the restructuring of the intelligence community.
The 2nd District, which historically leans Democratic, saw a barrage of negative television ads and mailings. While Sullivan struggled to raise money, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poured $1.25 million into the race. In one ad, Simmons' face morphs into President Bush's.
Simmons and the National Republican Campaign Committee criticized Sullivan's record on the Norwich City Council and other boards he served on, and they criticized him for bad-mouthing drug companies while his family owns stock in Pfizer. Sullivan complained that the ad as a personal attack against his wife and three young sons.
Four years ago Simmons defeated long-term Democratic House member Sam Gejdenson, and he faced a tough re-election race two years ago.
In the 4th District, Shays has been a popular incumbent, serving since 1987. While Farrell hammered him with critical mailings and ads, Shays threatened to pull out of the race if the National Republican Congressional Committee put negative ads on the air against Farrell.
Farrell insisted she did not run a negative campaign, but instead put together a strong challenge that Shays might not have expected.