Chris Shays, facing the fight of his nineteen-year congressional career for reelection in Connecticut's Fourth District, got riled at a candidates' forum on Sunday morning when a woman at the back of the hall said, "Nobody could accuse you of not being a decent human being … but … every piece of literature that came through my mailbox is disgusting." Shays challenged her to show him one example that came from his office. "I resent that you'd say that," he said. A moment later, he acknowledged that some of the mailings have come from the Republican National Committee. Shays said he is barred by law from asking the RNC to stop the practice.
The forum, at Bridgeport's Congregation Rodeph Sholom, was a chance for Shays, the nine-term incumbent, and his principal challenger, Diane Farrell, former two-term first selectwoman of Westport, to sway undecided voters only two days before the election.
"Are you happy with the status quo, or is it time for a change?" asked Farrell, adding, "I stand in opposition to Chris Shays, to George Bush, to the Republican majority." Farrell said she wants Donald Rumsfeld to go, but to end Iraq chaos, she favors setting benchmarks for pulling troops out, not deadline dates.
When a woman questioned Farrell's lack of experience with Iraq and military affairs releative to Shays, the candidate answered, "Fourteen trips to Iraq do not an expert in military affairs make. I'm not a military expert, but I'm smart enough to know who to ask."
When someone questioned Shays about squaring his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War with sending young men and women to fight and die in Iraq, he said he had held 22 hearings on terrorism before the World Trade Center attacks and that the threats of the post-9/11 world had changed his thinking.
Saddam Hussein was never credibly linked with Al Qaeda, of course. "One of the reasons I've gone to Iraq fourteen times is I feel responsible" for that decision, he said.