He sits on a wicker chair in a small, messy studio apartment. The Venetian blinds rattle and the smell of Mexican spices from the restaurant across the street flavors the air.

This is Rob Simmons' home for one more day.

Simmons still looks like a congressman, wearing a nicely fitting gray suit, his tie perfectly knotted as he relaxes in the wicker chair.

He still sounds like a congressman, in that frank, determined way he has of making his points. ``I'm an optimist,'' he declares, his eyes staring straight into yours as he smiles.

And although the shabby apartment is a long way, in a sense, from his office in the opulent Cannon House Office Building, where the state's 2nd District Republican representative has worked for six years, Simmons seems not in the least disturbed by his pared-down circumstances.

In fact, he might be the most upbeat beaten candidate in Washington.

All this despite his loss, by less than 100 votes, to Democrat Joe Courtney last month.

Simmons makes it clear, above all, that he is ready for more political combat. Unlike most of his soon-to-be-former colleagues, he's not complaining. The Vietnam veteran and former CIA operations officer has been schooled to absorb the blows. He understands you suck it up when you're down and get ready for the next mission.

``This is my office this week,'' he says, almost shouting in that animated way he has. His long arms sweep to indicate the small apartment.

Probe a little, it doesn't take much, and he explains just why he's feeling pretty good. Six years ago, he won his seat in a district that George W. Bush lost, a district that had elected Democrat Sam Gejdenson to Congress 10 times between 1980 and 1998. Connecticut's 2nd is a place where, as political analyst Amy Walter put it, Republicans begin a race ``with 20 pound weights around their legs.''

``I didn't get the feeling there was dissatisfaction with me personally,'' he explains. He will make the same point over and over during an hourlong conversation: ``I was operating in a hostile environment.''

Simmons won't rule out another run in 2008; nor will he reject the idea that he could be Connecticut's Republican chairman, as was raised as a possibility last week. He'll continue to live in Stonington, hoping to find work ``in the industry,'' meaning something to do with veterans' affairs, military strategy or intelligence work.

Old soldiers never die, and they fight like crazy not to fade away.

What Went Wrong?

Was Simmons a victim of the times, or was he fortunate to have won three times in such a Democratic district?

``On issue after issue, especially on the war in Iraq, the Republican majority and Rob Simmons supported the Bush agenda,'' says Brian Farber, Courtney's spokesman. Courtney himself declined to comment.

On 46 key votes tracked by Congressional Quarterly, Simmons backed Bush 65 percent of the time, well below the 81 percent average for House Republicans.

That was enough to help Simmons fall like a domino last month. Three other New England GOP incumbents lost, leaving Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4th District, as the region's only Republican House member.

The party's future in New England, says Simmons, ``is not a promising picture. It looks bad on any criteria you use to measure the party's strength.''