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Rich Suburbs Move to Democrats

By Froma Harrop

GREENWICH, Conn. -- You know you're in a different kind of town when the signs against drunk driving show a line drawn through a Martini glass to which the artist thoughtfully added a stirrer. Greenwich, Conn., is one such town.

Greenwich is home to billionaire hedge-fund managers, private-equity kings and corporate chieftains, as well as ordinary multi-multimillionaires. Interviewing people here requires leaving phone messages with au pairs and catching folks between board meetings.

You'd think that Greenwich would be solid Bush-loving turf -- what with all those tax cuts for the rich. It is not. The voters are roughly 40 percent Republican, 40 percent unaffiliated and only 20 percent Democratic, but Bush won the town by only a sliver in 2004, even though his father grew up here.

The political shift toward Democrats has been noted in wealthy suburbs from Seattle to Philadelphia. In 2006, an amazing 63 percent of voters making from $150,000 to $200,000 chose Democratic candidates. Even those making over $200,000 favored Democrats, albeit by a small margin.

Greenwich has also become an incubator for liberal candidates. Local businessman Ned Lamont became the bloggers' hero last year for nearly unseating Iraq-war cheerleader Joe Lieberman in a Senate race.

The chairman of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee is Jim Himes, a Goldman Sachs alumnus who is running against Chris Shays, New England's sole surviving Republican House member. Himes has already raised nearly $350,000, more than any other congressional challenger in the country, according to his campaign.

The big political question is whether affluent America is under full sail out of the Republican harbor or just drifting due to displeasure with the Bush administration. The leading complaints seem to be the war in Iraq and deficit spending.

Robert Jenks, a private-equity investor and hedge-fund consultant, expresses this much-shared view: "Setting aside the human toll of this prolonged war, we are irresponsible in passing on the financial cost to future generations."

Although a registered Republican, Jenks supported Lamont's candidacy last year with both his vote and his money. Indeed, half the people at Lamont's Greenwich fund-raisers were Republicans, he notes.

Greenwich has long been a bubbling source of campaign cash for Republicans, but now the money fountains are spouting for Democrats, as well. Democratic presidential hopefuls are making their stops -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and, of course, Chris Dodd, who as a Connecticut senator is something of a native son.

As the Washington punditry oohed and aahed over Obama's enormous success with small donors, the Illinois senator was vacuuming hundreds of thousands from a select few at Greenwich fund-raisers. His take in one four-hour sprint of party-hopping here has become legend.

Bear in mind that one's attendance at a fund-raiser does not signal undying loyalty to a candidate. The same faces have been showing up at different parties.

"I think you've got some people who feel very passionate about a candidate and others who are just hedging their bets," Himes explains.

There's also the social thing. The price of admission is generally $2,300 (the maximum one may give to a primary candidate). That is not an extraordinary sum around here, and the parties offer an opportunity to hobnob with neighbors as well as candidates.

It's astonishing how many rich people dismiss the importance of the Bush tax cuts. They prefer to speak of the national interest, which to them means balanced budgets, a sophisticated foreign policy and concern for the environment. They also feel culturally estranged from social conservatives on such matters as abortion and stem cell research.

The Bush administration ends in January 2009. Will its departure slow Republican losses in posh suburbs? In Greenwich right now, things aren't looking up for the GOP.

fharrop@projo.com

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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