Mission Congress for retired Navy SEAL
STAMFORD, Conn. — Next to the trident on his left lapel, Republican Carl Higbie is making room for a different kind of pin.
This one doesn't require treading water, jumping out of the back of a plane or rooting out al-Qaida insurgents in Fallujah.
It's worn by members of Congress.
Higbie, 30, a retired Navy SEAL who completed two tours of duty in Iraq, then stepped on the toes of Pentagon brass with a controversial tell-all book about the handling of the war on terror by President Barack Obama, recently emerged as a candidate for the House in Connecticut's 4th District.
Conservative by the standards of many Yankee Republicans, the former Fox News Channel contributor from Greenwich identifies himself as pro-life and a supporter of the Second Amendment, including the right to own assault weapons.
But what Higbie says separates him from the rest of the field of potential GOP challengers to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat who lives on the same street as him in Cos Cob, is that he's battle-tested.
"Republicans have consistently tried to moderate themselves," Higbie told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers on Tuesday. "I'm not bound by the same conformist rules that most Republicans are bound by. I think well on my feet."
Connecticut's top Republican recently sat down with Higbie to discuss the race, which handicappers have called for Himes, who is in his third term and whose margin of victory ballooned to 20 percentage points in 2012.
"Carl is a compelling young candidate who has put his life on the line for his country on numerous occasions," said Jerry Labriola Jr., the state GOP chairman. "He joins a field of impressive Republican candidates for Congress, each of whom can take the fight to Jim Himes and win."
One GOP power broker, who asked not to be identified, has already given the nickname Rambo to Higbie.
"When we started putting boots on the ground in Iraq, I dropped out of college and joined the military," said Higbie, a Greenwich High School graduate whose mother served on the Representative Town Meeting.
During his 16 months in combat, Higbie said he took part in hundreds of operations, including hunting down the terrorists responsible for hanging four Blackwater contractors from a bridge in Fallujah.
"Our job is to complete the mission, no matter what," said Higbie, who works as a personal trainer at Equinox fitness club in Greenwich and can deadlift 515 pounds.
Near Sadr City on his first tour, Higbie said he lost three friends to a roadside bomb that knocked him back inside his Humvee.
But as the months wore on, Higbie, who is married with an 11-month-old daughter, said he became disillusioned with the bureaucratic culture of the military and the policies emanating from Washington.
"I compare the military to the DMV, and it gets people killed," Higbie said.
Still on active duty, Higbie rankled his superiors when in 2012 he published "Battle on the Home Front," in which he criticized Obama for revealing the timeline for the troop drawdown in Iraq. He also took the Pentagon to task for tightening its rules of engagement for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he said make it more difficult for military personnel to protect themselves.
"They told me, `If you write this book, you're out of the military,' " Higbie said, adding that he resigned from the SEALs with an honorable discharge.
Higbie joins former state Sen. Dan Debicella, who lost to Himes in 2010, and state Rep. John Shaban in the Republican field.
If elected, Higbie said he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, "which Jim Himes said he read cover to cover and lied about."
A message seeking comment from Himes was left with his aides in Washington.
Higbie says he would support a balanced budget amendment and an across-the-board personal income tax rate of 10 percent, with a maximum annual deduction of $50,000. He also favors eliminating the corporate tax in the U.S. to attract businesses from overseas.
"Look at how many are (leaving) Connecticut and this country," Higbie said.
Higbie is a social conservative.
"I have moral oppositions to abortions and same-sex marriage, but my legislative position is live and let live," Higbie said.
He supports civil unions, but said the issue of marriage should be left to the church to decide. Higbie opposes public funding for abortions, but said women should be left to make the choice of whether to end a pregnancy.
Prone to quoting Thomas Jefferson, whom he refers to as "T.J.," Higbie pulled out a pocket Constitution when asked his position on gun control. He supports background checks on firearms, but that's where it ends.
"What law would have stopped Sandy Hook?" he said. "I say to people who are against guns, `Have you ever been in a situation where you have to defend yourself with a gun? If not, then get out of the debate because you have no skin in the game.' "