Dan Debicella cinched the Republican nominee for Connecticut's 4th District in a three-way race Tuesday night.
"Tonight is a vote of confidence that there is a better way," Debicella said accepting his party's nomination at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center. "The November election now offers a clear contrast between Jim Himes and myself."
Debicella, 35, won the first GOP primary in 40 years with 60 percent of the vote. That compared with 24 percent for Rob Merkle and 15 percent for Rick Torres. Long considered the front winner, he enjoyed early backing from the Connecticut Republican Party. In his victory speech Debicella invoked the spirit of Ronald Reagan – smaller government and economic growth.
Come November, the two-term state Senator will face incumbent Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. If Debicella wins he will reclaim the seat formerly occupied by Republican Christopher Shays (a seat which Shays had been in since 1987).
"Tonight is just the starting line to make sure America gets back on the right track," Debicella said. "This election is the future of our country. Let's take our country back."
Debicella was born in Bridgeport. His father, Cal, was a police officer and his mother, Maggie, was a secretary in the federal judicial system. Debicella was the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and earned an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
"He has a remarkable resume," said Weston's former first selectman Woody Bliss. "I'm pleased with the results. He's a fiscal conservative of the first order."
At times the race for the GOP nomination proved pugnacious. Candidates and their campaigns raised questions about endorsements, past college incidents and voting records. Now Debicella looks forward to working with his former adversaries.
"I really believe at the end of the day we're not that much different. I look forward to meeting with them and sitting with the campaign staffs," Debicella said referring to the campaigns of Rob Merkle and Rick Torres.
Merkle, a Norwalk businessman, ran a grassroots campaign with "an army of volunteers sacrificing thousands of personal time," said Al Alper, Merkle's campaign manager.
Merkle campaigned on a platform of a Federal government with a vastly reduced role. Many fiscal conservatives gravitated to his campaign. Among those supporters was Margaret Sapir, owner of Wave Hill Breads in Wilton.
"I identify with him as a small business owner," Sapir said. "He's smart and he's a fighter."
These voters will need representation, Alper said.
"There is an underrepresented segment of the Republican Party looking for a voice and we look forward to sitting with Dan and helping him discover that voice," Alper said.
Bridgeport resident Rick Torres' platform included implementing a flat tax of 20 percent and decriminalizing marijuana. He too acknowledged the sometimes contentious nature of the primary. However, he said he'll support the nominee, no matter who it is.
"If you're a grown up in politics you lick your wounds and get up and support your party," he said outside Wilton's Village Market last week.
Going forward, the Debicella campaign has a lot of work to do to defeat Himes, said John Hetherington, (R-125). In the 2008 election Chris Shays edged out Himes in every town but Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford.
"We have to figure out a way to make them closer," said Hetherington. "I think the mystique the Democrats had for Obama is over."
Jason Perillo, Debicella's campaign manager, echoed the sentiment.
"There is no time for time off," Perillo said. "We have a full slate of events and are very focused on the 17 towns of the district."
That work includes weaving together ideas and strategies from both the Merkle and Torres campaigns. Both campaigns secured enough signatures to petition themselves onto the ballot. That reflects a strong grassroots movement, said Rob Merkle.
"It was the first time for many who got involved," Merkle said at a campaign party at the Stamford Brewing Company. "They wanted to believe in someone. It's been transformative for me, in an extremely positive way."
In November, voters will again cast their ballots. Since July Himes has raised $2.6 million. Still Debicella's campaign is betting that voters will oust Himes.
"It's very clear in Fairfield County that voters – Republicans, Independents, and Democrats - are unhappy with Washington," Perillo said. "Unfortunately for Mr. Himes, he represents that."