Discuss as:

Battle for the House: Connecticut

Republican incumbent Rob Simmons and Democratic challenger Joe Courtney debated for the first time last night in New London.  MSNBC.com's Tom Curry reports that Courtney was much clearer about removing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon than he was about getting US soldiers out of Iraq.

Courtney did not support a cut-off of funding for the Iraq deployment, even as Simmons seemed to try to goad him by saying, "If you were running for president, you might have some chance of changing that presidential policy, but in Congress the tools that we have to change the policy are cutting funding for the troops.  I hope you're not suggesting a policy change that we would not support our troops..."

Courtney shot back that he wasn't talking about cutting off funding for US troops.  Praising a proposal by Sen. Joe Biden (D) for three autonomous regions for Iraq and an exit of US troops by the end of 2007, Courtney said Biden is "not just talking about a targeted date for withdrawal...  Americans have some responsibility... to make sure the violence is going to stop and we're going to leave a somewhat stable situation behind."  A few minutes later, he added another assurance: "No one is talking about walking out and leaving the situation in an irresponsible way."

But Simmons, a Vietnam veteran and a former CIA agent, also sounded defensive about his support for the war and unhappy that more US troops have not yet been ordered home, Curry says.  Simmons said his question to the President was, "When we see do our forces stand down?"  He said, "I believe we're close to that point."

Earlier in the day, at the opposite end of the state in the 5th district, Sen. John McCain came to Danbury yesterday to stump for Rep. Nancy Johnson, his classmate from the House Republican class of 1982, who faces a serious challenge from Democratic state Sen. Chris Murphy. 

Curry points out that McCain's presence in Danbury was a reminder that the Congress has so far failed to pass legislation to address a crisis for many cities: the cost of illegal immigrants.  Highlighting the urgency of the illegal immigration problem was one Republican in attendance, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. 

Danbury has largest population of Brazilians of any place in the United States; many of them are visa overstayers and hence illegal, Boughton said.  "It has frustrated residents" that Congress has been unable to agree on a solution -- either McCain's proposal, which would permit illegal immigrants to eventually qualify for citizenship, or the House-passed enforcement-only bill.  "Nancy voted yes on the House bill so voters pretty much don't see her as the issue," Boughton said.  He added that he opposed McCain's approach because it permits illegal immigrants to pay a fine to acquire legal status.  "I don't think we can reduce permanent residency and ultimately citizenship to paying a fine. It should be worth more than that," the Mayor said.