Having Ousted Incumbent, Lamont Focuses on Fall Election
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GWEN IFILL: And now we’re joined by the winner of Connecticut’s Senate Democratic primary, Ned Lamont. Mr. Lamont, welcome.
NED LAMONT: Hi, Gwen, happy to be here.
GWEN IFILL: Great. So what did last night’s victory tell you about what voters in Connecticut want?
NED LAMONT: Well, they call Connecticut the land of steady habits, and I think yesterday the people of Connecticut voted for change. They don’t want to stay the course in Iraq; they don’t want to stay┬áthe┬ácourse here in America. They want change. They want to start investing in our country again, investing in clean energy, investing in universal health care for everybody. That’s what I heard.
GWEN IFILL: In fact, there was a CBS News-New York Times exit poll that was taken last night. And of the people who voted, 61 percent said that Iraq was a very important issue. Does that translate, do you think, into a national debate?
NED LAMONT: I think it does. I think Iraq is a defining issue. Are we safer than we were before the invasion of Iraq? Have we destabilized the Middle East? Have he emboldened Iran? Is Israel any safer?
I think the answers to those questions are kind of clear, that the war in Iraq was a bad decision for this country. Now we have 132,000 of our bravest troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war, and it’s time to have a methodical and phased withdrawal of our troops and let the Iraqis take control of their own destiny.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think the voters are telling people in Washington to pull out of Iraq right away or eventually?
NED LAMONT: What I’ve said was I think the Kerry-Feingold amendment made sense. They said: Look, over the course of the next year, let’s bring our troops home. Let’s let the Iraqis step up. Let’s have them take responsibility for their own defense.
Look, I turned the president’s methodology on its head. He says, “We’ll stand down as soon as the Iraqis stand up.” I don’t think the Iraqis will stand up until we stand down. So let’s let them know what our intentions are, and that is, over the course of the next year, we’ll be bringing our troops home.
Vote against President Bush
GWEN IFILL: Many of the Democrats who came out today to endorse you said that, in fact, this wasn't necessarily completely a vote about the war as much as it was a vote against President Bush and you were the channel, the funnel for that discontent. What do you think it was about, the war, most of the vote, or about President Bush?
NED LAMONT: Well, first of all, the Democrats in the state, all the elected officials, starting with Chris Dodd, we got together. It was a strong unity platform we put forward, and we're going forward united as a Democratic Party here in the state of Connecticut.
I also heard from senators and elected officials from around the country. They're supporting this campaign and this candidacy, and I feel really good about it.
But it is a lot more than the war. It's an administration in Washington that's making an awful lot of bad decisions. We talked about the fact we have $8.5 trillion in debt. Instead of investing in our future, we're going to leave our kids with an enormous mortgage that they've got to pay off, and I think that's wrong.
It's 63 lobbyists for every single congressman in Washington, D.C., 63 lobbyists. They're all down there fighting for the special interests. I think we want some congressmen and senators to go down to Washington, D.C., and start fighting for the common good again.
GWEN IFILL: This is what the Republicans had been saying from the White House, through the Republican National Committee, about your victory last night. They're saying that you represent a transformation among Democrats from strength to weakness. What's your response to that?
NED LAMONT: My response is that George Bush's foreign policy has weakened this country. I think the invasion of Iraq took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, took our eye off the ball when it comes to Osama bin Laden and, as I said before, destabilized the Middle East.
I said last night, look, we're going to have the strongest military upon the face of this Earth, but America is stronger still when we work in concert with our allies, and we stay true to our values, and we do treat the rest of the world with respect. That's how we're going to go forward in this, you know, new world where we have terrorism.
And secondly, we've got to take a look at our homeland security. As the Tom Keane commission said, we haven't taken care of our ports, and our nuclear facilities, and public transportation facilities. That's where we're vulnerable, and we've got to do a much better job there than we have.
A liberal campaign
GWEN IFILL: There's been a lot of attention paid to the impact of the so-called netroots in your victory, that is to say the Web logs and the Internet-based activity which really promoted you. How would you interpret it? How big a deal was it? How big an impact did it have?
NED LAMONT: Well, it's democracy. There's grassroots democracy, just old-fashioned shoe leather, meeting people on street corners, telling them what you're about and why you think this race is important. Over the internet, now you have a lot of communities where people are talking about the issues, as well.
And there are thousands of blogs. Some of them take a look at this race. Some of them support Lamont; some of them support Lieberman. And I think it has been helpful. It's energized debate, gotten people involved, and I think that's good for democracy.
GWEN IFILL: Watching your election night victory party last night, I noticed that you were surrounded by people who are among the most liberal in your party, including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton. I wonder if, going into the fall campaign, especially now with an independent candidacy looming, whether you're going to feel any need to broaden your base?
NED LAMONT: Look, I don't feel the need to broaden my base. I'm going to stick with the message I've gone with for the last eight months, that we've got to start investing in our country again, investing in our future.
I'm a guy that's been teaching -- a volunteer teacher at a high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut. This is a school that shuts down at 2:30 in the afternoon, and too often these kids are going home to an empty house. I think we've got to rearrange our priorities in this country and give our kids a fighting chance in the 21st century.
GWEN IFILL: I mentioned this specter of the independent candidacy of Joe Lieberman. What do you think of Senator Lieberman's decision to stay in the race?
NED LAMONT: Look, I respect Senator Lieberman. And he's doing, I guess, what he thinks he has to do. I wish he would stay with the Democratic Party. I wish he would abide by the rules of the Democratic primary.
But he's elected to go another way. And I know there's an awful lot of his colleagues in Congress and elsewhere who are counseling him to reconsider, but, again, that's a decision the senator will have to make on his own.
GWEN IFILL: I want to throw some more numbers at you, and I wonder whether you think that there is any negative energy surrounding your victory: 48 percent of your voters said they were voting against Lieberman, while only 8 percent of Lieberman's voters said they were voting against you. Do you worry that you've motivated people out of anger?
NED LAMONT: No, I think we've motivated people to dream of something bigger. We've had, what, 26,000, 27,000, 28,000 new Democrats register in the last few months. They're not doing that to vote against somebody; they're doing that to vote for something larger.
We had the highest turnout, I think, in the history of primaries in this state. Here it was, a hot day in August. That was conceived, maybe, so there'd be less people turning out. We had double the turnout anybody expected. I think they're doing that because we're giving people something to believe in.
GWEN IFILL: How do you get those people, all those newly energized voters, to stick with you in November? How do you get them not to just say, "OK, fine, this is over"?
NED LAMONT: Oh, boy, they're not going to do that. I think this is a coalition for change. It's veterans; it's students; it's young; it's old; and small business; labor. I think these people want me to go down to Washington, D.C., and change how we do business, change our priorities, start investing in America again.
I think we're going to do fine. We're going to do fine with Republicans, and independents, and we're going to do fine with the Democrats who got me elected yesterday.
GWEN IFILL: Am I right that the final total comes to about $4 million of your own money that you spent in this campaign?
NED LAMONT: I think that's about right. I can tell you, we were greatly outspent by Senator Lieberman's campaign. He's got an awful lot of lobbyist money, a lot of corporate PAC money. We're not taking any of that.
I had over 15,000 people donate to this campaign. I really feel good that we got a broad-based grassroots campaign going forward. Yes, a lot of people didn't know Ned Lamont about eight months ago. I did help get this campaign jumpstarted. I think we've started, and I think we're going to strong.
GWEN IFILL: And do you expect to dip back into your bank account going forward into this general election campaign?
NED LAMONT: Well, I sure hope not. I know, if the senator stays in this race, he'll be spending an awful lot of money. He tries to typecast me on TV. I'll have to defend myself. But right now I think we've got grassroots support. I think more of the traditional fundraisers may come around now that I'm the, you know, nominee of the Democratic Party here in Connecticut.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Ned Lamont, nominee of the Democratic Party in Connecticut for the Senate, thank you very much for joining us.
NED LAMONT: Gwen, always nice to talk to you.