Chris Shays On A Vanishing Breed: The Classic, Moderate New England Republican

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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.\’\’

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14 thoughts on “Chris Shays On A Vanishing Breed: The Classic, Moderate New England Republican

  1. Mike Robinson

    Come back, Chris, we need you. I wrote to you once with a problem and you helped me out even though I was not in your district. I’ll never forget that. You have my vote.

  2. John R. McCommas

    Shays kept his seat as long as he did because he stabbed the party in the back every chance he could. Go back to Maryland RINO.

    There is no point in electing a Republican when he votes right along with the Democrats. I would rather lose with a Real Republican like Linda McMahon than win with a RINO like Shays.

    As for the House of Represenatives, it has a big Republican Majority. The story here should be that Connecticut’s Democrats don’t have any clout.

  3. AndersonScooper

    During the 21 years he was in office did Shays ever fight the Christian right, FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh or the racists within his own party? No! Instead he always closed ranks and played along, much like Rob Simmons carrying a stupid tea bag in his pocket Constitution.

    In 2005 I questioned him directly why he didn’t get together with other moderate Republicans, (a la the Blue Dog Democrats), and occasionally side with Democrats against Tom Delay. Shays’ subsequent flabbergasting response? “What’s so wrong about Delay? Your side has Al Sharpton…”

    Now it’s too late, and the Tea Party nuts have run any sane moderates out of the GOP, leaving Connecticut with a rump party of perennial losers. (Even Roraback couldn’t get it done.) And cowardly pols like Shays and Simmons are as much to blame as anyone else.

    As a final aside could you next time please ask Shays where he is now living? My guess is he’s already back to Maryland retirement home, with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as his neighbors in the town of St. Michael’s.

    1. johngaltwhereru

      When was the last time any Democrat fought the racists like Al Sharpton, the late term Abortionists, the hate-filled morons like Chris Matthews, the Anti-God left, the fringe left environmental/financial terrorists, Occupy Wall Street, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, those who want Socialism at any cost, pathological liars like Debbie Wasserman-Shultz/Barack Obama, or any other prominent aspect of the Democratic Party?

  4. CT Bob

    Chris Shays missed the point. He should have said that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists like the Tea Party, and they don’t WANT anyone who is considered moderate to be in office. Their “no compromise” agenda has doomed his party to failure.

    But I guess even Chris Shays is worried about speaking against the Tea Party. The real problem, Chris, isn’t with the African-American churches…it’s YOUR party that has let itself be taken over by ultra-conservative extremists.

    1. johngaltwhereru

      Yes. And the Party with Nancy Pelosi as it’s House Minority Leader is moderate, right?

      The Party with Harry Reid as it’s Senate Majority Leader is moderate, right?

      The Party that elected the Senator with the single most Liberal voting record President is moderate, right.

      The Party that repeatedly re-elects self-described Socialist Bernie Sanders is moderate, right?

  5. Brian

    Did Chris Shays do anything in office that was productive? Seems like he spent most of his time seeking out the high media agendas like the baseball steroid scandal. Why should we care what he has to say?

  6. Jeff P

    Much of the distrust dates back to the Bush II years. There was controversy in his Supreme Court-assisted rise to the presidency. The Citizens United decision, which has created a widely disliked cosmic disconnect in accountability in political advertising (there is none and the ads cannot be believed) is indelibly linked to Republican initiatives. The efforts throughout the country to “prevent voter fraud” have been clearly unmasked as Republican dirty tricks to prevent qualified citizens from voting. If there is one thing, one sacred trust, that even the poorest Americans treasure, it is the right to vote. When it becomes obvious that someone is out to take that away, all Hell breaks loose. In this case, people crawled out from darkened, cold, storm-damaged homes to vote, just to show the Republicans that their efforts would not prevent these true American from exercizing their right to vote and be counted. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon spends $100 MILLION of her own money, enough to pay off most of the state budget deficit, in a vain effort to represent the people of Connecticut in Washington. How? Has she had any political experience EVER? She rails against “Career Politicians”, yet they manage to get elected and get things passed. She has done neither, yet claims to be the most qualified candidate while villifying her opponent, who many people happen to like. How can someone represent YOU when their political party has a platform that you find sickening? Why does it seem that everything that seems to be broken in Washington is attached to a Republican agenda? And you wonder why so many people don’t trust Republicans?

    Chris Shays was the only electable Republican candidate, but his national party would have probably roasted him for being too moderate. Funny, but he was a career politician who worked both sides of the aisle, got bills passed, and represented some of the richest areas of Connecticut. He didn’t have to run incessant ads telling us how good he was. We knew it from his actions, just like Obama.

    A few billion dollars of advertising and the electorate still seems to know a good candidate from an imposter. Imagine how many hungry kids that money would feed. The Republicans wanted everyone to know that Jesus was on their side. I guess after deciding who would feed the hungry, clothe the naked and educate the ignorant, it appears that this year, he voted Democratic. I wonder why?

  7. Matt from CT

    You have to start organizing from the ground level up.

    Part of it is developing the political operations and data mining to match the Democrats.

    And part of that includes developing a training program for new (and existing!) politicians on how to combine good governance with fiscal prudence.

    Simply hack-and-slash budgeting is no good, but you can balance people’s legitimate needs for government with a careful stewardship of the public’s money. You have to develop a farm system and grow politicians to fulfill the roles as they open up.

    The conspiracy by Democrats and Republicans nationally to form safe seats for each party has created a Republican party nationally that is full of bat shit crazy individuals, while the Democrats are distinctly sub-mediocre across the board.

    Form up a core of competent conservatives who focus on good but limited governance and who set aside the social issues as by and large not an area for the Government to stick it’s nose into. It’ll take a few years, but they can regain New England that way.

  8. RPM

    I’m not sure that it is important for Republicans to work too hard to get Connecticut/NorthEast residents to vote for them if it makes them go against conservative principles. Conservative principles are for all people not certain minorities. Moderate Republicans seem to forget this and end of pandering to certain groups. The current ultra-liberal majority (democrat held house-state senate-govenor)has put CT in so much debt that we find our state in many reports listed as; the top 1/3 in debt to income ratio, worst state to retire, highest energy costs, Highest welfare rolls in all history, unfunded state pensions and then the lowest; worst state to start a business, low school scores, jobs nonexsistent to college grads. Tied to the union stranglehold, CT will just do fine dragging it self down all by itself via the Democrat representatives. Republicans need to stay away, step aside and let the democrats self-destruct. No need to muddle the blame by more moderate Republicans.

  9. Richard

    Roraback won 32 of the 41 towns in the fifth. Esty won by over 20,000 votes in New Britain, Waterbury and Danbury propelling her to a 9,000 vote victory. The GOP has to court the Latino vote in the cities and separate it from the Black Vote and the Union Vote.

    Jack Kemp was able to bridge the divide with a strong Urban Renewal policy of Enterprise Zones and tax breaks for urban start-ups and sole proprietorships. If the GOP can’t craft a jobs friendly urban tax plan that speaks to Latinos then they are forever lost in CT.

  10. Reality check for Moderates

    Mr Shays and all the others that lament the moderate candidates missing from the GOP are not living in reality. The ‘moderate’ Bass you refer to in this story WAS the GOP nominee and lost. Andrew Roraback is so much a ‘moderate’ that many in GOP call him a liberal. He WAS the candidate and I’m not sure if Shays and others have heard yet…but he LOST! Linda McMahon was such a ‘moderate’ she was basically campaigning with Obama although he wasn’t here in person. Roraback and McMahon each nearly had a stroke when tied to conservatism, Paul Ryan, the Tea Party, social conservatives, etc. THEY WERE YOUR MODERATE CANDIDATES…AND BOTH LOST!

    As long as the GOP lets the media and democrats define the rules of the game and tell the party who can and can’t win, they will keep losing. Chris Murphy in 2010 actually praised Roraback against Caligiuri which was a bad sign then. Mitt Romney came from the same line of ‘electable moderate candidates’ who can win as President Dole and President McCain. He is no where near the fringe candidates who couldn’t win like Ronald Reagan or George Bush 2.

    The establishment like Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, Andrew Roraback, Larry Cafero, etc keep telling us that they know how to win if they only get to run THEIR chosen candidates. They get these candidates and then lose anyway and tell us next time it will be different. Let’s try one of those crazy fringe candidates next time and if they lose….guess what….it’s the same result that you have gotten each time previously!

    Get over yourself Mr Shays. You ran a terrible campaign and lost to McMahon. One of you was bad and the other one was worse. Those were our choices!

  11. Joe Broder

    Read Ken Gronbach’s THE AGE CURVE for a clue to what ails us. You can also catch Ken on YouTube.

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