MAY 1, 2006
Let the record show that Ned Lamont does not consider Joe Lieberman a whiny-ass titty baby. Nor does he believe that Connecticuts junior senator is a douchebag, an ass clown, or any of the other nasty names liberal bloggers have called Liebermanwhom, with those bloggers help, Lamont hopes to defeat in this Augusts Democratic primary. I really regret that rhetoric, Lamont said one recent afternoon, blushing a little as some of the derogatory appellations for Lieberman were read back to him. I think hes a good man, I think hes a patriot, I think he does what he thinks is right. ... I just happen to think hes wrong.
Lamont was sitting in a closet-like room in his sparsely furnished campaign headquarters outside of Hartford. He was wearing a Patagonia fleece vest over his shirt and tie, making him look every bit like the Bobo-ish Greenwich millionaire cable TV executive he isor, rather, was, until he concluded that Lieberman was so wrong in his support for the war in Iraq that Connecticut Democrats needed to replace him. I wasnt my first choice to run for the U.S. Senate, conceded Lamont, whowith his reddish hair and eager, almost anxious, demeanorbears a slight resemblance to the actor William H. Macy. In fact, Lamont tried to convince any number of professional politicians to launch a primary challenge against Lieberman, but none were willing. Its a little like General Motors, he said. The vice president doesnt challenge the senior vice president who doesnt challenge the executive vice president. I think theres a certain pecking order, and people sort of wait their turn. ... And so they said, Well, Ned, if you feel so strongly, you do it. He did, and, since officially announcing his candidacy in March, Lamont has mounted a surprisingly serious challenge to Lieberman, who, in his previous two reelection races, faced only token opposition from Republicansmuch less from a fellow Democrat. In his campaigns first 45 days, Lamont raised close to $350,000 from more than 4,000 online donors (he plans to substantially build on that dollar figure in the coming weeks with a series of nonvirtual fund- raisers in Massachusetts and California; and he has already contributed $370, 000 of his own money to his campaign). And he appears to be well on his way toward securing the support of 15 percent of the delegates to his partys state convention and the petition signatures of 15,000 Connecticut Democratseither one of which will earn him a spot on the Democratic primary ballot. Even people who had a pretty rosy view of Lamonts chances are surprised at how many delegates he seems to be able to turn, The Hartford Courant political columnist Colin McEnroe recently said on Hartfords wtic-tv. [Liebermans] got a real nailbiter on his hands. Indeed, by taking on Lieberman, Lamont has become a hero to those who reside in the angriest corners of the state and national Democratic Partyand whose brief against Lieberman goes well beyond his support for the war. (To wit, one ardent Lamont supporter who blogs at Daily Kos recently trash-talked: Lieberman is a disloyal, Bush-kissing, torture-loving asshole who hasnt done shit for CT in years.) These Lieberman-haters hail Lamont for his Nedrenaline and celebrate his Nedmentum. He is, in their eyes, the anti-Lieberman. Ned has a gift, a blogger at the website My Left Nutmeg recently wrote. The more people see and hear Ned the more they like him and thats the polar opposite of our current junior senator. But, as Lamont seems to be discovering, being a hero to this rabid crowd is a strange role for a mild-mannered guy like himself. The 52-year-old Lamont isnt a complete political novice, but, up until now, his political activities have tended, like his personality, to be of a moderate nature. He was elected as a selectman in his ultra-rich, ultra-Republican hometown of Greenwich and was appointed by the Independent (and formerly Republican) governor, Lowell Weicker, to serve as the chairman of Connecticuts pension oversight board. He has also donated money to numerous moderate state and national Democratic candidates over the years, including Lieberman. Even as a student in the mid-70s at Harvardwhere the undergraduate library is named after his great-grandfather, a former chairman of J.P. MorganLamont steered clear of the radicals: His one major political act in Cambridge was to help bring the Indiana Democratic senator and 1976 presidential candidate Birch Bayh to campus. But Lamonts campaign against Lieberman has now brought him face-to-face with the radical fringe. And, as he continued to talk in his campaign office, he sounded very much like a prude who had wandered into a swingers club and was still trying to convince himself that he was comfortable with what hed seen. I was not a big blog guy, Lamont said, admitting that he tended to get most of his news from the mainstreet media. But Ive looked at them a lot more in the last 60 days than I did in the previous 52 years. Then, there are the people Lamont has met on the campaign trail who have exposed him to issues to which hed previously not given much thought. Oh boy, I get a lot of questions about media concentration, he said with a sigh. Yeah, GE owns NBC or Murdoch owns Fox and DirecTV, you know. Im in media so Im supposed to be more outraged by that than I probably am. And, of course, he has been feeling some pressure to stake out more extreme positions than those with which hes comfortable. He recalled a recent campaign appearance at the University of Connecticut, during which a student asked him whether he supported impeaching President Bush for war crimes. Gee, I was thinking maybe wed censure him for fisa, Lamont said. Like many of his supporters, Lamont has tried to turn his disagreement with Lieberman about the warwhich, according to a February poll, is opposed by 61 percent of Connecticut residentsinto a broader indictment of Liebermans party disloyalty. I doubt that anybody will call me George Bushs favorite Democrat, Lamont typically says on the stump, going on to declare that, if he wins, Youre not losing a senator, youre gaining a Democrat. But, when pressed on the issue of what exactly makes Lieberman such a bad Democrat, Lamont doesnt seem to have the heart to argue the case too forcefully. He supported the energy bill, Lamont said, and it was Senator Lieberman who, on Meet the Press, said, Of course the federal government has got to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. But, soon, Lamont circled back to the war. Id say Senator Lieberman has been all Iraq, all the time, he continued. So its not necessarily a question of being wrong on these [Democratic] issues, its just sort of being silent. Even when it comes to President Bushwho may be the only person Lamonts supporters hate more than Liebermanthe candidate tends to pull his punches. I dont dislike people, Im not that type of person, Lamont said of Bush. Was I ever sympathetic to his politics or what he was trying to do? No. Still, Lamont did confess that he respected some of Bushs symbolic actions in the immediate aftermath of September 11. I liked it when he went to the Yankee game, Lamont said. That was gutsy as hell. I mean, I was putting on plastic gloves to open the mail coming into my office. After a while, it was time for Lamont to hit the trail, so he got into his Lexus convertible, which, for the moment, was serving as his campaign car. (A few days later, the campaign bought, as the candidate put it, a more politically correct vehiclea Ford hybrid.) As his driver weaved in and out of traffic, incurring the wrath of other motorists, Lamont seemed relieved that he had failed to get one of his campaign stickers to adhere to the Lexuss bumper. Maybe I should put a Lieberman sticker on the car, he said. Eventually, Lamont arrived in the Hartford suburb of Windsor to meet that towns Democratic committee. It was about the twentieth such town committee Lamont had visited in his pursuit of at least 240 delegates to the Connecticut Democratic Party convention in May. But the Windsor meeting was special, since it was that town committees 34-to-one vote in February to reprimand Lieberman for his support of the war that partly inspired Lamont to get into the race. Theres a sense that our 132,000 troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war are not making the situation better, he told the crowd of about 60 peoplethe men mostly in plaid shirts and with beards; the women primarily wearing sweaters and sensible shoeswho had gathered in the town hall. Were going to have to start investing in this country again. Were spending three hundred million dollars a day over in Iraq; were going to have to start investing in our own infrastructure and our own democracy. When the crowd finished applauding Lamont, a Lieberman staffer named Ken Dagliere addressed the committee. (Lieberman himself would appear before the committee the following weekend.) Dagliere, a portly man in an illfitting suit, had recently been detailed from Liebermans Senate office in Washington to work on the tightening campaign, and he didnt seem terribly pleased to be there. Desperately scanning the room for friendly faces, he beseeched those in attendance not to let their views on the war cloud their judgment. Obviously, you know, we can all disagree about that, but there are a lot of things we agree on, he pleaded, citing instances in which Lieberman had opposed or criticized the Bush administration. He rattled off a laundry list of liberal interest groups that had given Lieberman high marks for his voting record. And then he trotted out the hoariest argument available to incumbentsthe argument about seniority. Hes a member of the Armed Services Committee, Dagliere said of Lieberman. He has great influence in obtaining Department of Defense contracts. But the crowd seemed unimpressed, peppering Dagliere with hostile questions, such as why Liebermans campaign literature fails to mention his foreign policy views. Frankly, I just dont want Senator Lieberman representing my party, said one questioner. How do you respond to that? Dagliere stammered for a moment and then was speechless. After the meeting, Lamont stood in the town halls vestibule and received well-wishers. Were with you all the way, said one man sporting a support the troops / impeach bush button. It had been a good night for Lamont, and, as he made his way across the emptying parking lot to his Lexus, he seemed to have only one regret. There was all that talk about Liebermans seniority, Lamont said. But his seniority hasnt done us much good, noting that Connecticut is forty-ninth out of 50 states in terms of the federal aid it receives compared with the tax dollars it sends to Washington. I didnt want to say that at the meeting, though, he continued. I dont like being that confrontational.