It's a bright morning and the candidate wears a slightly wrinkled black suit that absorbs the early autumn sunlight, a rim of perspiration beading on his forehead.
The chore is bittersweet, but Democrat Jim Himes is doing one of the things he enjoys about being the 4th District congressman, presenting long-overdue military honors to the family of a Vietnam War veteran.
He and Sherry Miro step back into the shade of the white marble Veterans' Honor Roll. They talk softly about her brother, Daniel Gammon, who served two tours of Vietnam during a 20-year service career that began in 1968. He committed suicide in 2006.
At the urging of relatives, Miro got in touch with Himes' office in early July.
Within weeks, the Pentagon produced more than a dozen medals and service ribbons, along with an inch-thick sheaf of Gammon's military records that bulges inside a manila folder.
It's part of the incumbent's duty and advantage, this type of constituent service. It will get coverage in the newspapers and on the 6 o'clock TV news. It also lets Himes talk publicly about the larger need, for the VFW, the American Legion and family members to reach out to service vets as they come home and try to adjust.
"Way too many of our veterans are arriving here feeling alone, not knowing who to talk to," Himes said. "It's really important you give us, as a grateful country, a chance to help you when you need help. They're returning to an uncertain and difficult economy, so we should be working on veterans' employment programs but first and fundamentally we have to make sure they're OK and can reintegrate and become once again fully confident, happy members of our country."
Miles away, on a different day and in a different town, another candidate bends to his own task.
Steve Obsitnik, in dark pants and a blue-checked shirt with an open collar, is sitting at a table jousting about monetary policy with Peter Vouras. It's the last day of summer and Vouras, the owner of the Huntington Street Cafe in Shelton and a former Reagan Republican who voted four years ago for Barack Obama, is just the type of voter the Republican Obsitnik needs to defeat Himes in November.
"Right now, I feel Congress is a bunch of obstructionists," Vouras complains. "We need people to say everyone is equal and we have to think of the common good."
"You've created jobs," Obsitnik said, looking Vouras in the eye, stressing that he's a fiscal conservative and libertarian on social issues. "I've created jobs."
Obsitnik talks about the need for middle-class tax reform, adding that people he knows who have money don't mind paying taxes. "They just don't want to continue the growth of our debt."
By cutting inefficiencies and then passing a budget that the nation can afford, the next Congress can succeed where the current one has failed, he said. "Can you imagine not knowing what's ahead for your own budget?" Obsitnik asks, as Vouras nods his head.
"What if you make (House Republican Majority Leader) John Boehner cry," Vouras jokes.
Obsitnik laughs and then offers Vouras a fist bump.
Steve Obsitnik and Jim Himes would seem to have a lot in common.
Both are individualists and consensus builders, high achievers whose business expertise -- Himes in investment banking, Obsitnik in high-technology -- left them comfortable enough financially to change gears and seek elective office. Both are married with two daughters. Himes is a daily runner. Obsitnik practices yoga and kayaks.
The similarities end there.
Since winning 2008 during President Barack Obama's statewide landslide that ousted Christopher Shays in the 4th District, Himes has transformed himself from an outsider to a consummate insider.
He's mastered not only the arcane rules that govern the House but the modern trappings of politics as well.
He tweets with a vengeance (you can find him at @jahimes). He's quite comfortable on the TV cable news yakfests, representing the Democratic House viewpoint against such conservative foils as Utah's Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
And he attends scores of community events, hurls himself at constituent concerns and pushes for the pet projects of cities and towns in his district -- such as securing funding for Bridgeport's long-delayed Steelpointe project.
"It's clear that they know me as an independent congressman," he said. "The presidential election is far from irrelevant, but I have my own relationship with the 4th District."
Himes has backed the official Democratic Party position 90.5 percent of the time, reports OpenCongress.org. He is comfortable articulating what he said is party's solid record in beginning to clean up a mess left by the Bush administration -- saving the auto industry; restoring appropriate regulation of the financial services industry; stimulating the economy in a way that has avoided even a deeper trough of joblessness; enacting a health insurance law that expands coverage and begins to deal with rising costs.
All of which, Obsitnik said, is a mirage.
The country, and Connecticut, are still stuck in an economic morass marked by high unemployment and a swollen federal budget deficit. Gas prices are soaring, and the White House -- and Himes -- refuse to back aggressive energy projects, like the Keystone pipeline.
Furthermore, Obsitnik said, the job creators in the business community are glum about their prospects for hiring.
"How do we motivate entrepreneurs and small businesses to do what they've done for 200 years?" Obsitnik said. "We need to reform our tax code so that entrepreneurs can plan for the future and recognize a level playing field, be it a small, medium or large facility. How do we align ourselves to celebrate entrepreneurship and small business, and motivate them to take risks? Because right now they are not motivated."
Obsitnik has hitched his prospects to the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying that only an entrepreneurial approach to solving government's problems -- an approach that a proven businessman can pilot -- will restore economic growth.
Himes just hasn't delivered, Obsitnik said.
"What he has delivered is an environment where people are not self-confident about wanting to create jobs, they're not self- confident about the future of their kids, they're not self-confident about the education system that their kids sit in," he said. "That's not the district that I grew up in."
Ralph Flamini, of Shelton, a vice president at the Stamford-based Gartner Inc., the internationally known analysts of the high-tech industry, said last week that Obsitnik has the qualifications of a good congressman.
"He was absolutely excellent," said Flamini, who first worked with Obsitnik when he was at Cisco Systems and Obsitnik, then a resident of Minnesota, was helping transform the Minneapolis-based Spanlink Communications into a bigger, more profitable operation.
"He has the Wharton background and understands the analytics. He was very fair and people were extremely loyal to him. What I was amazed at was how he brought everyone together in a unified strategy. In Congress, we need somebody who has experience of bringing divergent strategies together for the common good."
Jerry Labriola, the state Republican chairman, said Obsitnik is a good fit for the district. "He's a super nice guy and a smart, disciplined, hardworking candidate," Labriola said.
"Steve is a devoted family man who has already given much to his country by way of his military service. Most importantly, Steve understands the financial services industry, which is vital to the 4th District and will actually work to support the industry as compared to the Democratic incumbent ... Himes did very little for the district when he was in the majority and even less in the minority. We might as well have someone in the majority."
Jim Maxfield, of Stamford, an advertising executive and founder of the startup Social2step.com, was in Obsitnik's class at the Naval Academy.
Like Obsitnik, he was stationed in the war-torn Persian Gulf. He said the military training would be a big plus in Congress.
"He's a very humble, straight-shooting guy," Maxwell said last week.
He said that the Navy teaches officers to look at an overall problem and fix the most-important issues first.
"A lot of political problems I see out there, people don't seem to tackle the big ones," Maxwell said.
Recalling that 120 members of a submarine crew have to function as a unit, he said that Obsitnik is someone who can work with anyone. "Red or blue, he's someone who will look at the crew we have -- good or bad -- and say these are the ways to get things done."
'24 HOURS A DAY'
Those who have served with in Congress with Himes or have worked closely with him say he's already left his mark.
"Jim Himes is a very hard worker and I think to be a congressman, you almost have to be on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Rep. Gerry Fox, D-Stamford, who is co-chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly's powerful Judiciary Committee.
"He's very busy in the district when he's not in Washington," said Fox, who helped nominate Himes during the district's May nominating convention. "I see him at a number of Stamford events every week. He works very hard in the Hispanic community and since he was born in Peru and is fluent in Spanish, he doesn't hesitate to speak Spanish at the various events."
As the congressman from Fairfield County, Himes has shown an independent streak, Fox said, citing that Himes has departed from Democratic leadership on budget-related bills.
Second District U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said that Himes' background on Wall Street has made him indispensable to fellow lawmakers who want to dig deeper into the exotic financial instruments that burst the nation's housing bubble in 2008 and nearly crippled the economy.
Himes, Courtney believes, understands the financial services sector that's as important to the 4th District, as southeastern Connecticut's submarine-building industry is in his district.
"He's a very friendly, approachable guy who is well-liked but doesn't fit the traditional profile of a back-slapping, gregarious pol," said Courtney, detailing frequent, informal meetings of the state's delegation during daily votes on the House floor.
"He can explain things like derivatives and credit default swaps in plain English so they can have some degree of fluency in this, which is extremely helpful," said Courtney, who is seeking his fourth term.
"These issues are at the heart of the economic issues the country faces."
ON THE ATTACK
Oddly enough, Himes and Obsitnik have never met. That hasn't stopped them from engaging in some withering long-distance exchanges.
Himes' camp points out that Obsitnik didn't even vote in six elections since he registered in Connecticut and offers little more than platitudes when it comes to the issues. Obsitnik's team ridicules Himes' receiving an award as a fiscal watchdog when the federal deficit has ballooned so substantially during his four years in Congress.
Himes points to studies that show the bulk of the deficit is attributable to policies from President George W. Bush's eight years in office. Obsitnik's people say the Democrats have made it much worse than it had to be.
Obsitnik has criticized Himes for not pushing the Obama administration to back Israel more aggressively in setting limits on Iran's nuclear energy development. Himes said Obsitnik doesn't understand the intricacies of Middle East diplomacy.
"All I've heard about his jobs plan is more stimulus and infrastructure and job training that the government should do," Obsitnik said. "I've been very specific on jobs and that's the key element. I've been very specific on social issues," he said.
Himes' aides say the Obsitnik position on jobs is simply to call for lower taxes and less regulations and an undefined "focused strategy" to reduce the skilled worker gap. Which taxes should be lowered, they ask? Which rules jettisoned?
Perhaps their sharpest disagreement may come on the Affordable Care Act, the health care law that is the signature achievement of the Obama administration. Obsitnik supports keeping some existing provisions, including mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing adults under 26 to remain on their parents' insurance policies, but he has criticized the overall law.
"I'm not for a repeal of it on Day One," Obsitnik, 39, said. "I think we replace it, fix it, improve it. We, as Americans, are a people of continuous improvement. I think we would have been better off working within the system to improve it, than going down that road with the individual mandate, increasing 20 new taxes and putting in a system that isn't solvent Day One."
Himes, who strongly supported the Affordable Care Act, said it is not a pick-and-choose menu, because unless all age groups are included -- as they are in the individual mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance coverage -- the system simply doesn't work.
"The bad stuff pays for the good stuff," Himes said. "He likes the good parts of the health care reform but he doesn't like the bad parts. Well, thanks a lot. That's not leadership and he has not taken a firm position on pretty much anything. And at a moment in time when the country's in crisis, that's not acceptable."