Election 2008

Cheryl Senter/AP
U.S. Sen. John Sununu

GOP Loses Last New England Representative

November 05, 2008 10:30 AM
by Denis Cummings
Conn. Rep. Christopher Shays, the last New England Republican in the House, lost his seat Tuesday, illustrating the GOP’s failures outside of conservative districts.

Shays, Sununu Fall

Rep. Christopher Shays, a 21-year incumbent, lost to former Goldman Sachs executive Jim Himes in a closely-contested race in Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District. Democrats held the other 21 House congressional races in New England, giving them a sweep of the six states.

Shays is a moderate Republican—socially liberal and fiscally conservative—but Himes linked him to President George W. Bush and his economic policies. With the district becoming increasingly Democratic, Shays’ party affiliation was enough to swing the election in Himes’ favor.

In New England's Senate races, Maine Sen. Susan Collins won a third term, but one-time rising star John Sununu was defeated in New Hampshire. Like Shays, Sununu was a victim of the country’s shift to the left.

“There's a tide moving the country to the left and we hoped that New Hampshire would be able to resist it,” said Sununu. “Unfortunately, the tide was too strong.”

The tide reaches beyond New England to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and outside of the Northeast, writes Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard. Moderate Republicans lost in Virginia, New Mexico and Washington state, exposing the GOP’s troubles outside of conservative strongholds.

“A possible Republican response to its problem in the Northeast and in moderate districts might be to elevate moderates to positions of leadership in Congress and in the party hierarchy,” says Barnes. “But there are no longer many to choose from.”

Background: Shays and Sununu’s races

Shays v. Himes
Shays is pro-choice, pro-gun control and pro-gay rights, and became the first Republican to call for a withdrawal from Iraq. He won many of his elections easily, but as political opinion in Connecticut moved further away from the right, he narrowly won his 11th election in 2006.

The 4th Congressional District, located in southwestern Connecticut, is home to many Wall Street employees and hedge fund managers. It is one of the wealthiest districts in the country and one of the hardest hit by the recent crisis on Wall Street, writes The Wall Street Journal.

Himes connected Shays to Bush’s economic policies and blamed him for the crisis. “In an especially telling television advertisement,” writes The New York Times, “the image of Mr. Bush appeared alongside an image of Mr. Shays, with both men quoted as saying that the economy was fundamentally ‘strong.’”

Conn. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal predicted before the election that Shays would lose. “Chris Shays is a good man, but he's in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think he's going to get an Obama tsunami,” he told the Hartford Courant. “It will be because of that tidal wave that Chris Shays will lose.
Sununu vs. Shaheen
Sununu, the son of a popular former governor, won a Senate seat at the age of 38, defeating Shaheen in the 2002 election. He “was widely viewed as an intelligent, sharp politician who would be one of the party's rising stars,” wrote Time magazine. “And yet, due almost entirely to the unpopularity of George W. Bush, Sununu looks headed for early retirement in the final days of a re-match against Shaheen.”

New Hampshire voted for Bush in 2000, but has become a solid “blue state” during the Bush presidency. Democrats took control of New Hampshire’s governorship, house and senate in 2006, the first time since the 19th century they controlled both the executive and legislative branches.
Sununu broke with his party on several important issues, including land conservation and the USA Patriot Act. However, Shaheen stressed his connections to Bush and the GOP during the campaign, including an ad showing Bush’s face morph into Sununu.

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