The candidate was trying to defeat the once-popular incumbent
in a race for a U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut.
"You can choose between a senator who has been there 18
years and seems to have lost touch with our common concerns,"
the challenger told a Rotary luncheon in Bridgeport. "Or
you can vote for a senator who will be there when you and your
family need him."
Was this 2006 Democratic candidate Ned Lamont on the attack?
How timely. How in-your-face. How ... dated.
It turns out the candidate being quoted was Joseph Lieberman
-- 18 years ago -- when he was running to defeat Republican Lowell
I happen to know he said this because I was there, covering the
campaign for The Washington Post. Looking back at the articles
I filed on the Weicker-Lieberman race in 1988, my jaw drops at
Lieberman, then a popular two-term attorney general, was the
underdog for much of that race -- much as Ned Lamont, the millionaire
cable executive, was until this summer.
Now, with a fresh statewide poll in hand showing him ahead Lieberman
by 13 points, Lamont heads into the Aug. 8 primary with all of
the advantages the younger Lieberman once had.
This time, Lamont is the fresh face. Lieberman is the Washington
insider. Lamont is the nimble challenger. Lieberman is the comfortable
incumbent who awoke only slowly to the potent political force
on his doorstep.
The driving issue, of course, has been Lieberman's support for
the war in Iraq. Furious Connecticut Democrats expressed such
unhappiness with their senator that Lieberman announced last month
that if he does not win the primary, he will run as an independent
in the fall.
But as much as the Iraq war debate has dominated this campaign,
Lieberman's apparent willingness to leave his party to hang onto
his Senate seat has some Democrats especially upset.
And because there seems to be nothing new under the sun in politics,
it has stirred other comparisons to the 1988 Senate race.
"Lowell Weicker is not a real Republican," Lieberman
said then. "He's not a real Democrat. He does what he wants
when he wants to do it."
is saying roughly the same thing now. When we caught up with him
at an Irish Festival in Trumbull one weekend in June, he told
me: "Senator Lieberman's got some decisions to make. He's
going to have to decide if he's a Democrat."
If Lieberman does run as an independent, Lamont suggested on
that hot day in June, Republicans will flock to him and to the
weaker Republican nominee -- leaving the field of Democrats to
That seemed far-fetched on a hot day in June. Not so much on
a hot day in August.
That same June weekend, we found Lieberman campaigning like a
man who had no idea someone else might be breathing down his neck.
He cheerfully recalled how Bill Clinton -- then a Yale law school
student -- supported him in his first race for the state Senate,
and how he boarded the Clinton national bandwagon in 1991.
(He did not bring up his decision to denounce Clinton from the
Senate floor some years later, a speech that helped grease the
skids toward impeachment.)
Clinton repaid that early favor last week, traveling to Connecticut
to help Lieberman. But even as Lieberman and Lamont have been
playing tit-for-tat on celebrity political endorsements, voters'
opinions appear to be hardening.
There are a number of wild cards waiting to be slammed on the
table between now and Tuesday night:
- Whose voters will be most likely to turn out in force on
a hot Tuesday in August?
- How successful will Lamont-friendly liberal bloggers be
in getting like-minded Democrats to the polls?
- Are some Democrats annoyed enough at Lieberman -- and unmoved
enough by Lamont -- to simply stay home?
- And which candidate will be pouring the most money into
last-minute television ads, high-profile rallies, robo-calls
to registered voters and get-out-the-vote campaigns?
- And which Lieberman will voters see on Election Day? The
one who beat Lowell Weicker 18 years ago, thanks in part to
an endorsement from Citizens for Reagan and support for the
invasion of Grenada?
- Or will they see the Lieberman President Bush embraced at
the State of the Union speech, and who still won't back down
from his support for the Iraq war?
- And if they reject the senator now they elected then ...
-- By Gwen Ifill for the Online NewsHour