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Lieberman, Lamont Face Off in Connecticut’s Democratic Primary

August 7, 2006 at 6:40 PM EDT
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AUDIENCE: We want Joe! We want Joe! We want Joe!

GWEN IFILL: In its final days, Senator Joe Lieberman’s race to hold onto his Connecticut Senate seat has turned into a political brawl against cable executive Ned Lamont.

LAMONT SUPPORTER: Get our troops back.

GWEN IFILL: The closely watched race turns on a fundamental dispute. Lieberman voted for and continues to defend the decision to go to war in Iraq. Lamont vociferously opposes it.

NED LAMONT (D), Candidate for U.S. Senate: Your vote on August 8th makes a real difference. Your vote on August 8th is going to say a lot about what type of a country we have. Do you want to stay the course or do you want to change course? Do you want to keep the troops in Iraq or is it time to start bringing them home?

GWEN IFILL: For weeks, Lieberman, a three-term senator and former vice presidential nominee, has been off-balance, even though he’s won much traditional support.

CHARLES LECONCHE, Connecticut Labor Leader: This is crunch time. This is about taking care of our friends, taking care of people like Joe Lieberman that has fought the fight for organized labor and working people in the state of Connecticut.

Support for Ned Lamont

Randall Jenkins
Ned Lamont Supporter
I was four years old when Lieberman first got into office, so, no, it's time for a change.

GWEN IFILL: But Lamont's neophyte campaign has been embraced by liberal bloggers and antiwar activists across the country.

NED LAMONT: Early on, I've got to admit, a lot of people were showing up. They didn't know who Ned Lamont was, but they were against Joe Lieberman, they were against the war. But I think increasingly people are coming forward because they know what I'm all about.

GWEN IFILL: Lamont says Lieberman is out of touch with Democrats, who overwhelmingly oppose the war, and that he's too close to President Bush. That argument has acted as a tripwire for dissatisfied Democrats.

This traveling anti-Lieberman display frequently follows Lamont from rally to rally, mocking the embrace the president gave Lieberman just after last year's State of the Union address. Another vehicle, this one a van wrapped in anti-Lieberman slogans, is designed to appeal to younger voters.

RANDALL JENKINS, Connecticut Voter: I was four years old when Lieberman first got into office, so, no, it's time for a change.

ALLEN TAYLOR, Connecticut Voter: We're trying to give the more younger crowd involved. So it's our future that depends on this Democratic race right now.

GWEN IFILL: Lieberman had downplayed his support for the war, accusing Lamont of distortion. But in the campaign's final weekend, the former prosecutor was forced to mount a case for the defense.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Now, I understand that many Democrats in Connecticut disagree with me and are angry about the war. For some of them, I don't think there's anything I can say to change your mind about that, about whether we should have gone to war and when we should bring our troops home.

And to a certain extent, a very real extent, I'd say that, at this point, I'm not going to insult you by trying. What I will say is this: I not only respect your right to disagree or question the president or anyone else, including me. I value your right to disagree.

The polls

Douglas Schwartz
Quinnipiac Poll
Voters tell us overwhelmingly that, when they're voting for Lamont, it's really an anti-Lieberman vote. It's a referendum on Joe Lieberman and his support for the war on Iraq.

POLLSTER: In general, ma'am, how satisfied are you with the way things are going in Connecticut today?

GWEN IFILL: Quinnipiac University's latest statewide poll, released today, gives Lamont a 6 point edge over Lieberman, with only 4 percent of voters left undecided. But just last week, Lamont's lead was in double digits.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: In 1948, the polls said that Tom Dewey was going to be president. But who won the election? Truman. So we're going to give them hell, from here until next Tuesday.

GWEN IFILL: Are the polls right?

NED LAMONT: Gwen, if I followed the polls, I never would have gotten into this race. I started out as an asterisk. You know that. And today the polls say we're doing pretty well, but I think it makes no difference at all. So I'd say, in August, next Tuesday, we've got to make sure that people vote.

GWEN IFILL: Douglas Schwartz runs the Quinnipiac poll.

DOUGLAS SCHWARTZ, Dir., The Quinnipiac University Poll: This race really is all about Joe Lieberman. Voters tell us overwhelmingly that, when they're voting for Lamont, it's really an anti-Lieberman vote. It's a referendum on Joe Lieberman and his support for the war on Iraq.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: We've been through a lot together over the years.

GWEN IFILL: The campaign is being waged on three fronts in its waning days..

Leiberman's Campaign

Senator Chris Dodd
D - Conn.
We're talking about someone who's voted 90 percent of the time with Democrats against the Bush administration's policies, hardly someone you would assume would be a target for removal or for defeat.

TELEVISION AD ANNOUNCER: Maybe it's his support for President Bush's plan to stay in Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: ... in radio and television advertising, on the blogs which have sprung up in and around the campaigns, and on the stump, where the voters live.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Hello, everybody.

GWEN IFILL: During the last weekend of any competitive campaign, anyplace likely voters gather are likely to be ripe targets for politicians. In this case, the votes just might be there for the asking. Just in the last few weeks, thousands of new voters have registered for Tuesday's primary.

It's not difficult to find disillusioned former Lieberman supporters. Ed Krumeich, a selectman in Lamont's hometown of Greenwich, said the senator's war stance is only part of the problem.

ED KRUMEICH, Lamont Supporter: One of the key things to me is the independence of the federal judiciary. I believe Joe, by what he's done, has allowed the Bush administration to put right-wing ideologues on the highest court in this country. And I find it very hard to forgive Joe for that.

GWEN IFILL: But Gail Miller, an artist who ran into Lieberman in Middletown this weekend, says she's switching the other way.

GAIL MILLER, Lieberman Supporter: Well, I was going to vote for Ned Lamont. I have a sign in my front yard that says "Ned Lamont." But my husband and I have been talking about, is Ned Lamont really going to do what Joe Lieberman could do after all Joe's experience?

BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: Go out and elect Joe Lieberman. He's earned it. He's been a good Democrat. He's a good man, and he'll do you proud.

GWEN IFILL: The high-profile campaign has attracted big-name outsiders, from former President Clinton two weeks ago for Lieberman to actor Danny Glover this weekend for Lamont. California Congresswoman Maxine Waters has campaigned with Lamont three consecutive weekends.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), California: To tell you the truth, what we have in this campaign is an unusual kind of nexus. Not only do we have someone who's standing up on progressive issues, he's able to help finance his own campaign. We usually don't have the money to stand up against like an incumbent, and he's excited these young people. And the blogosphere has just gone crazy. And I think they've created tremendous excitement. They excited me.

GWEN IFILL: Connecticut's other senator, Chris Dodd, has become a regular on the Lieberman campaign trail. He says he does see the excitement on the other side but remains convinced Lieberman deserves another shot.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), Connecticut: At the very best, it's going to be close. But it's a contest; there's no question about it. He's never been in a contest quite like this. And so I don't know the outcome. I'm hoping for the best.

I think he's a very good senator. He's been a very good friend. He's a very good Democrat and, in my view, deserves to be re-nominated by this party. So I'm sorry we're in the middle of this.

We're talking about someone who's voted 90 percent of the time with Democrats against the Bush administration's policies, hardly someone you would assume would be a target for removal or for defeat.

Bipartisanship

"The Kiss"
Ned Lamont Campaign

GWEN IFILL: Lieberman has kept one another option open, suggesting he might quit his party and run as an independent in the fall if he loses tomorrow. Not all voters have been thrilled by that.

GUY GAROFALO, Lamont Supporter: I'm going to vote for Ned Lamont. It's time for a change. And we have a democrat that's not really a Democrat when it comes down to putting your cards down.

He will not back Lamont if Lamont beats him in the primary; he's going to start his own party. So to me that's not a real loyal Democrat.

GWEN IFILL: Still, Lieberman's message of bipartisanship does strike some chords.

MICHAEL NEVILLE, Lieberman Supporter: I get a little annoyed when the Democratic or Republican parties always say, "Well, we need somebody that's going to work just for the Republicans or just for the" -- we're a nation that needs to have support from both sides. And I think really that's the best thing about you, is the fact that you are willing to go down there and work with the opponents to get things done for all of us.

GWEN IFILL: Some of the Lamont-Lieberman grudge match is rooted in other grudges, other matches. Lowell Weicker, the former Connecticut senator who lost his seat 18 years ago to a young upstart named Joe Lieberman, is with Lamont.

LOWELL WEICKER (R), Former Connecticut Senator: America needs a house-cleaning in Washington, both sides... and Ned Lamont can be a part of that process.

GWEN IFILL: And another former senator, Georgia's Max Cleland, is with Lieberman, even though they disagree on the war. Cleland says Lieberman's record is being twisted, much as Cleland feels his own was when he was defeated in 2002.

MAX CLELAND (D), Former Georgia Senator: Think long and hard about your choice on Tuesday. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

GWEN IFILL: Lamont, casting himself as the upstart, says Connecticut could benefit from just such wholesale change.

NED LAMONT: The party brass don't really like the idea of a primary. I got the message. They've said, "Ned, don't rock the boat." It's all about who turns out and votes.

The eyes of the country are looking at little, old Connecticut. They want to know where we stand on the war. They want to know where we stand on business as usual in Washington, D.C. They want to see whether we want a change, and I hope you want a change as much as I do.

GWEN IFILL: Lieberman, the Washington-wise veteran, says now is not the time for change.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: The future is about more than noise; it's about being able to go to Washington and make the place work for Connecticut, deliver for Connecticut. I can tell you what my opponent would be if he ever got there, which he won't. He'd be another non-producing, polarizing politician, which is the last thing Washington needs or Connecticut needs representing them.

GWEN IFILL: Whatever the outcome, pro- and anti-war Democrats will be watching closely for clues or warnings that might be applied in this fall's elections or down the road in 2008.

MARGARET WARNER: A quick note: We inadvertently identified Congresswoman Maxine Waters as being from Connecticut. She's actually from California.