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With Goalie Out of Game, Party Activist Eyes Shays

Although they lost a potential celebrity challenger last week, when former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter announced that he would not run, Democrats insist that they won’t give Rep. Christopher Shays (R) a free pass in 2008.

Despite the favorable political climate for Democrats last fall, and the fact that Shays is one of eight House Republicans sitting in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carried in the 2004 presidential election, the Congressman won an 11th term by 4 points. But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) predicted Monday that Shays could be in even more danger in 2008 because more Democrats will turn out to vote in a presidential year.

One well-placed Democratic source in the 4th district, however, said that the party missed its chance to knock off Shays in the previous presidential cycle.

“The best shot of winning was in 2004, and the national party missed the boat,” the source said. “They invested only $100,000 in the race, and [nominee] Diane Farrell got 48 percent. In 2006, the national party made it a priority, but in a non-presidential year that district is tough. Even in a presidential year that district is tough.”

Richter was in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to meet with Democrats in the Connecticut House delegation and with Van Hollen, and he also appeared at the weekly Caucus lunch. But Richter, who helped now-Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) get elected in November, decided that his three sons were too young for him to mount an aggressive campaign.

With Richter out of the picture, the leading potential candidates appear to be state Rep. James Shapiro (D) and Jim Himes, chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.

Himes, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, runs the New York City office of Enterprise, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing for low-income residents. A former vice president at Goldman Sachs, he is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with the DCCC. The well-placed Democratic source said Himes should be in a position to self-finance some of his race.

Himes said that if he runs, he’ll appeal to voters that other Shays challengers haven’t been able to reach.

“I grew up in Latin America and am fluent in Spanish,” he said, “and the fastest-growing demographic in the district is Latino. With my dedication to community service and things like affordable housing, I feel I’m in a good position to span very different demographics in the district.”

Julie Shutley, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman, said, “The fact that three of the leading Republican nominees for President have proven they can win in blue states will be a tremendous asset for Chris Shays in 2008.”

— Daniel Heim

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