Debicella claims big victory in 4th Congressional District

Dan Debicella, the Shelton state senator endorsed this spring by Republicans, took the podium at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center to declare victory, cruising to what appeared to be a big victory, even though half of the 17 towns in the 4th Congressional District had officially reported their primary totals.

Comfortably carrying all seven of the district's 17 towns reporting by 10 p.m., Debicella will be his party's standard-bearer against freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes of Greenwich in November.

"Tonight is just the starting line in our effort to make sure we put America back track," Debicella said. "This election is not about Dan Debicella, it's not even about Jim Himes. It's about the future of our country."

As many as five candidates declared their candidacies for the Republicans' nomination in the 4th District earlier this year, but the party-backed Debicella faced only two opponents Tuesday: ultraconservative Rick Torres, a Bridgeport resident and owner of the Harborview Market, and Norwalk businessman Rob Merkle, a newcomer to the political scene.

With about 85 percent of the districtwide vote tallied, Debicella had roughly 60 percent of the vote, with 24 percent for Merkle and 15 percent for Torres.

The biggest community where Debicella tallied victory in the incomplete totals was Norwalk, which he carried with 1,085 votes to 673 for Merkle and 189 for Torres. He also overwhelmingly won his hometown of Shelton with 1,029 votes to 184 for Merkle and 110 for Torres.

Complete vote totals in the district's biggest cities, Bridgeport and Stamford, were not available at press deadline.

The 4th Congressional District is in the cross-hairs for national Republicans, who hope to take back the seat they lost two years ago to Himes. Prior to that, the district had been held for decades by the GOP, mostly recently Christopher Shays.

Debicella, serving his second term in the state Senate, said voters will have a clear choice in November.

Campaign manager Jason Perillo said Debicella's message -- a "hard" federal spending cap, elimination of non-performing government programs, alignment of federal workers' health and pension benefits with the private sector, and cut payroll taxes -- resonated with GOP voters. "It's full steam ahead," Perillo said. "We're feeling very good. The future's looking very bright."

At Torres' primary night headquarters -- his food market -- the candidate sounded resigned to defeat.

"I think if we were able to raise a little more money, we might have been able to move more minds," he said. "I have no regrets. I've learned a lot."

Torres received endorsements from U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, whose Libertarian-style philosophy makes him a favorite of the Tea Party movement, as well as the Independence Caucus and state Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull.

Staff writer Amanda Cuda contributed to this report.