Ned Lamont, returning to New Britain for the first time since his U.S. Senate campaign last year, addressed a packed room of students and faculty at CCSU’s Marcus White Hall on April 26th.
Invited by History and Philosophy faculty to speak on “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom”, Lamont recounted how he decided to run against incumbent Joe Lieberman after failing to persuade more seasoned politicians to take on an 18-year incumbent who had become increasingly aloof from rank and file CT Democrats. The turning point, Lamont said as he did often on the campaign trail, was Lieberman’s late 2005 admonition: “It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he’ll be commander in chief for three more years. We undermine the president’s credibility at our own peril.” When he heard those words, Ned Lamont knew he could not abide “George Bush’s favorite Democrat” any more. Having held just a town office in Greenwich, the upstart Lamont decided he would have to give the Democratic Party the much needed debate over the U.S. course in Iraq it yearned for. As the campaign moved from winter to spring in 2006, Lamont found that Lieberman’s increasing estrangement from the people who put him in the Senate back in 1988 was real and growing.
Appearing at ease and reflective during his CCSU appearance, Lamont said his overtures about a Lieberman challenge were dismissed out of hand by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Lamont’s assertions that Lieberman was undermining other Democrats and walking lockstep with the GOP fell on deaf ears within the party hierarchy at the state and national level.
The Greenwich Democrat, who is a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government this semester with former Cong. Nancy Johnson (R-New Britain), credited the internet bloggers for fueling what became a grassroots movement that led to his improbable victory in the August 8th Democratic Primary.
Lamont’s primary win, many have since contended, gave Democrats a spine and the gumption to forcefully take on the Bush administration over Iraq. It certainly spawned an unprecedented upsurge in voter registrations in favor of the Democrats. Arguably, the Lamont general election campaign gave Joe Courtney his razor-thin win in the 2nd Congressional District and helped propel Chris Murphy’s overwhelming win in the 5th Congressional District. With Lieberman as the Democratic nominee the Democratic message and the important contrasts to be made between Democrats and Republicans would have been blurred considerably.
In the general election Lamont conceded he may have been hurt by Lieberman’s emphasis on “experience”, and the incumbent’s hammering home the message of “bringing home the bacon.” Lamont said his campaign sought to counter Lieberman with his own experiences in building a business and challenging the go-along and get-along atmosphere of Washington, which was not being particularly responsive to the state’s problems in transportation, job dislocation and health coverage.
The decisive factor in the General Election, Lamont reminded an appreciative audience at CCSU, was the failure of the Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger, to break over single digits as a percentage of the final vote. From July onward last year the Republican Party abandoned its nominee to line up behind “George Bush’s favorite Democrat”, a development that gave Lieberman the barely 50% he needed to win another term.
Last November a New Britain Democrat commentary assessed the impact of Lamont’s candidacy immediately after the votes were counted:
“Ned Lamont lost the electoral battle last Tuesday but his upstart candidacy and winning of the Democratic nomination helped start a movement within the Democratic Party that may win the peace in Iraq sooner rather than later and helped define the 2006 election in favor of Democrats. The ouster of Donald Rumsfeld last Wednesday was a sign that policy change is coming fast. The entry of grown ups (the Baker/Hamilton Iraq study group) into the Oval office are the beginning of the end of the Cheney/Lieberman policy of neoconservatism and intransigence. In Connecticut, Lamont, calling out Lieberman on his many accommodations with the GOP Administration, has inspired thousands of people to become involved, including newcomers to the New Britain Democratic Town Committee, who will stay involved for future elections.”
Ned Lamont, speaking as if he yearned to be on the stump campaigning again, ended his 30-minute talk by challenging his mostly young audience to take on conventional wisdom themselves. He let it be known that there will be no “woulda, coulda or shoulda” for him when he looks back on 2006. By choosing to challenge an incumbent U.S. Senator who thought he could ignore his base, Lamont used his own considerable resources to lead a grassroots movement that contributed to a change of power in Congress and inspired thousands of people to become involved in the political process. And his talk at the CCSU campus showed that he’s not done rocking the boat nor being a prominent voice in the Democratic Party.