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Himes is working to ensure moderate Democrats win in November

September 16, 2018

In a year when progressive Democrats are grabbing the headlines, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes is working to shepherd a group of centrist candidates to wins in purple districts.

Himes leads the New Democrat Coalition, a caucus with 68 moderate Democrats — about a third of all those now in the House.

After November, Himes predicts, their membership will balloon to 80 or 90 after November. In 2018, the New Dem PAC has posted it’s highest ever fundraising numbers since it was founded in 1997

“They’re poised for a banner year,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes the U.S. House for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Chairman since 2016, Himes is crafting the message — friendly to business, pivot on social issues — Democrats hope they can use to win in red and swing districts across the U.S..

Like Fairfield County’s 4th Congressional District.

Although Himes is comfortably positioned for re-election in 2018, his district is not unlike the places where New Democrats are looking to make gains: former Republican strongholds where Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Before Himes was elected in 2008, his seat was held by Republicans since 1989. But Himes, a former Goldman Sachs banker born in Peru who also led an affordable housing non-profit, defeated 10-term Republican Chris Shays, carried by support in Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport and the coattails of former President Barack Obama’s sweep in the district.

Himes’s Wall Street connections make him kin to the Gold Coast’s financiers, said Gary Rose, political science professor at Sacred Heart University. Himes split from other Connecticut Democrats in May to support a bill that pared down the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill, the restrictions imposed on banks after the global financial crisis.

“Of the five members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation, he is the most moderate Democrat,” said Rose. “It’s the nature of his district that has pulled him to the center.”

Republican Harry Arora, Himes’ opponent, said it was “hypocrisy” that liberal Himes chairs the New Democrats.

“Himes says he is a centrist, but there is barely anything in his record to support that,” Arora wrote in a statement. “His support of the (Affordable Care Act) and now his reticence to stand up to his party’s advocating for government control of the entire healthcare system shows how he stands against the dynamic private sector.”

Himes is confident that his message — that of the New Democrats — will push him to a win with the 4th District’s “thoughtful, independent thinkers,” he said.

The centrist message

Speaking at a New Democrat conference in May, Himes urged members to be “very, very careful” about how they talk about social justice issues, in particular to conservative and religious communities.

“We also need to make sure that your proverbial white working class family in Youngstown Ohio doesn’t feel like we don’t actually pay attention to their concerns and interests,” Himes said in a video of his remarks.

He pointed to U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, for a good example of what to do.

“I say conservative statues should come down; now I want to talk about how it’s going to be easier to send your kids to school,” said Himes, paraphrasing Scott’s “pivot.”

New Democrats’ message works, Himes said, even though one of the most prominent New Democrat voices, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, the former chairman of the Coalition, lost a June primary to Democratic socialist Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez.

“Her winning on that platform worked in Queens and it worked in a Democratic primary electorate, which you’ll look into you’ll find is a pretty small percentage of the overall population of Queens,” Himes said, while acknowledging enthusiasm for female and young candidates gave her a boost.

Wasserman agreed that Ocasio-Cortez, in a district where Hillary Clinton crushed Trump in 2016, is an anomaly.

“Ocasio-Cortez has attracted disproportionate attention because of the magnitude of her upset, but she’s not reflective of the majority of Democrats who will enter Congress in fall of 2019,” he said. “Most Democrats coming into Congress will emerge from swing suburban seats where there are incentives to work across the aisle.”

New Democrat candidates

Himes is putting his money and time into boosting centrist Democrats in November.

He is contributing $1 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to support candidates, especially those in red districts. He is likely to travel to New York, New Jersey and Virginia to campaign with New Democrat-endorsed candidates, he said.

New Democrats have endorsed 33 candidates and have 10 on their “watch list.”

Jahana Hayes, running in Connecticut’s competitive 5th District, has not been endorsed, although she is running to replace New Democrat Coalition member U.S. Rep Elizabeth Esty.

“There is a little bit of a tension going on there,” said Rose. “Hayes is speaking the language, if you will, more of the liberal Democrats.”

Other than Himes and Esty, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney of the 2nd District is the only other Connecticut New Democrat.

“The New Democrat Coalition has been a strong ally on Navy issues and shipbuilding in eastern Connecticut, and that has been helpful in building a coalition in non-coastal districts to boost submarine production and creating jobs,” said Courtney in a statement.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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