Bringing The War Home

US Representative of Connecticut, Christopher Shays, 2005/4/5, left, Democrat candidate for US Representative of Connecticut Diane Farrell, 2006/9/21.
By's James Klatell.

These are difficult days for Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays. The moderate Republican's liberal approach to social issues and conservative suspicion of tax increases has resonated with the affluent voters of Fairfield County, who have elected Shays to Congress again and again.

But the 19-year House veteran is in deep trouble with these voters over an issue that bothers many Americans: Iraq. Shays, 61, has been a staunch supporter of the war, and has visited the strife-torn Mideast nation an eye-popping 14 times. His enthusiasm for the conflict has put him squarely at odds with many of his own constituents.

Shays' vulnerability has prompted Democrats to make his blue-state seat a prime target of their drive to seize control of the House. He is facing a rematch against an attractive, well-funded opponent in the person of Diane Farrell, 51, the First Selectwoman of the tony town of Westport. (Shays beat Farrell by less than 1,500 votes in 2004.)

But the real millstone around Shays' neck is Iraq. It's an unlikely problem for a man who registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and signed up with the Peace Corps for a stint of do-gooding in the Fiji islands.

"I am 40 years older than I was when I was a conscientious objector. I have changed my view about the need to confront evil," Shays explained to a group of reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington in September.

Shays' decision to "confront evil" isn't the only problem to have dogged his campaign. He has also managed to commit two notable gaffes during an eye-glazing 11 debates with Democrat Farrell.

  • Shays said the abuse of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison "wasn't torture." He asserted that the National Guard soldiers convicted of abuse were part of a "sex ring."
  • The congressman defended House Speaker Dennis Hastert's handling of the congressional page scandal by saying that no one had been killed, as was the case in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident involving Sen. Ted Kennedy. "I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day," he told the Hartford Courant.

    "Those [remarks] did not help him by any means," said Prof. Gary Rose of Sacred Heart University. "It made him look impulsive and like he was wildly responding."