Chris Shays has been there.
As a battler in the electoral trenches, Shays was the last New England Republican standing in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008. His two longtime Connecticut colleagues – Republicans Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons – had lost their reelection bids for Congress in the Democratic year of 2006.
After Republican Andrew Roraback was defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Esty for an open seat in Tuesday\’s elections as Democrats swept across New England, Shays said Republicans need to analyze their brand.
\”First off, you\’re not a viable national party if you don’t represent a whole entire region of the country,\’\’ Shays told Capitol Watch in an interview. \’\’That is alarming when a whole region is represented by just one party. Now, we’re back to that. In 2008, we had no Republicans, and now, we have no Republicans.\’\’
Shays, who served for 21 years in Congress from lower Fairfield County, was surprised at the defeat of Roraback, who ran as a socially moderate, fiscally prudent, classic New England Republican with deep roots in Litchfield County.
\”I would have bet money that Andrew Roraback would have won,\’\’ Shays said Wednesday. “I was so convinced that we would win the seat in the 5th District.\’\’
The moderate Republican on the national stage – as personified by former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller, former U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker, and former U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits – has faded from the political landscape.
When Shays first entered Congress in 1987 after winning a special election following the death of U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney of Fairfield, there were Republican representatives all across New England.
\”We had two from Rhode Island, two from Massachusetts,\’\’ Shays recalled from his days in Washington, D.C. \”We had three from Connecticut, two from New Hampshire, one from Vermont, one from Maine.\’\’
Shays lost in 2008 to Democrat Jim Himes as Barack Obama carried Connecticut by a wide margin. Roraback lost Tuesday night as Obama again carried Connecticut handily.
One of those who lost Tuesday night was Rep. Charlie Bass, a moderate Republican from New Hampshire who had lost in 2006 and then battled back to regain his seat. Bass attended a fundraiser this year at the Greenwich mansion of Len Tannenbaum, who created a federal political action committee that was designed to help moderate candidates. Bass spoke at the fundraiser about trying to find solutions as a moderate.
\”New England folk are real, practical people,\’\’ Shays said Wednesday. \”They’re more into common sense than ideology. But the Republican brand is not particularly good in New England.\’\’
Nationally, Shays said that Republicans need to learn the lessons he learned as being a longtime resident of Bridgeport and a student of the problems in urban America.
“First off, you don’t win elections just with not having any appeal to African Americans and Latino voters,\’\’ he said. \”It’s harder to get the African American vote. You can make friends, but it’s hard to win their vote. They were friendly to me, and I think they liked me, but that doesn’t mean they will vote for me. The African American churches, some of the ministers are very connected into the Democratic Party. It seems hard for a large group of African Americans to vote for the Republican Party.’’
He added, \”Now, the Republican Party has to pick up the pieces. There\’s no short-term fix to it.\’\’