By the time Republican US Senate contender Chris Shays arrived at Newtown's Blue Colony Diner for the first of a pair of campaign stops in town July 10, he appeared to be highly energized. Working the room, he heard some concerns from a pair of local residents at one table, sat down to say grace with a group of gentlemen at the next, and discovered a former constituent having pancakes with her daughter, whom he remembered from his first term as a state representative back in 1975.
Then as fast as he breezed into the Blue Colony, he was gone — off to Sandy Hook to chat with owner Gary Seri at the Stone River Grille, as well as taking a few minutes to respond to questions from The Bee and other members of the press shadowing the candidate's visit.
Mr Shays served Connecticut from 1975 to 1987, when he won a special election to Congress after the death of Stewart McKinney opened up the Fourth District seat. He remained in service as a US congressman for the next 21 years before being defeated by Jim Himes in 2008.
Eleven months ago, Mr Shays declared his candidacy for the Senate, attempting to fill the seat of departing Senator Joe Lieberman.
He is facing the well-financed former World Wrestling Federation executive Linda McMahon in a GOP primary August 14, the winner of which will face either Democratic party nominee and current Congressman Chris Murphy, or one of his current Democratic opponents, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, attorney Sylvester Salcedo, or activist Lee Whitnum.
During his visit with Mr Seri, the two men ruminated on the challenges of running a small business in Connecticut. When Mr Seri indicated his issues with the high cost of energy, Mr Shays responded with his ideas for reforming national energy policies and his support for tapping more lower cost domestic natural gas reserves.
And when the restaurateur expressed his frustration over the costs tied to his business banking services, Mr Shays empathized having had his own issues with the same national bank as Mr Seri.
"If I was in office, we could get through to someone [at the bank] who has answers," Mr Shays said. "Then the legislator learns something about the process, and can help change the laws."
During his interview, Mr Shays also touched upon his ideas for improving the nation's energy situation, why he is taking such a hard stand against what he describes as "character issues" with his Republican opponent, and talked about what he is hearing from residents as he travels around the state.
The primary concerns, Mr Shays said, involve jump-starting the national economy and spurring job creation and growth.
"I love the opportunity to listen and to learn and to help. If you don't, you're in the wrong business," he said of his campaign visits. "I can tell you that Americans want their country back, and I also want my party back. I want my party to have the sanity to address the issues that are in front of us."
Mr Shays said there is some real fear among the residents he speaks with and a "disappointment in elected officials who are not acting like grown-ups."
The candidate said when he left Congress in 2008, he never believed the country could post several trillion dollar deficits, and that the deficit can be addressed by putting more Americans back to work, and by boosting the incomes of those who are working.
"We had over four percent growth on average for years," he said. "You can have the promise of America when you have four percent growth. When you have 1.6 percent growth, it's kind of like eating your own. We have to grow the economy."
Responding to a comment about the disparate growth in China's economy in recent years compared to America, Mr Shays said America has to stop accepting the status quo as normal.
"How have we fallen into the trap of thinking our best days are behind us?" he said. "We can get back to normal, and our birthright of prosperity."
If elected, Mr Shays vows to help get America's financial house back in order by downsizing government by as much as 20 percent, by taking advantage of the huge natural gas reserves that will bring significant drops in energy prices.
"We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, and we can become an exporter of energy and not an importer. We also need to reduce the tax rate by eliminating all the loopholes, and you have to reduce the corporate tax rate on the very businesses Americans own," Mr Shays said.
The candidate said he realizes that there is a glut of financially challenged Americans depending on expanding social programs, but he sees the solution in influencing a growth economy.
Speaking to the issue of character, Mr Shays pulled no punches when taking issue with his opponent.
"I don't want someone to think they can just come here and buy an election, or say 'I'm a job creator' without looking at the job she created," Mr Shays said. "Forty-one of her wrestlers died before the age of 50. How can you bring kids to an event where her husband is pulling down his pants revealing his bare buttocks and asking someone to kiss it. Or forcing a woman who works for him to take off her clothes down to her underwear — putting on a collar and forcing her to bark like a dog. It matters what kind of jobs you create."
Mr Shays said his opponent Ms McMahon is not a fiscal conservative because she's "already spent $60 million dollars in an extremely wasteful way."
"I've balanced federal budgets and I've been very effective at doing it. I work with both sides of the aisle," Mr Shays concluded. "Right now we don't need two junior senators. If people expect me to act like a junior senator, they can just kiss that goodbye."