There was a little misunderstanding Saturday afternoon by the
side of the road.
frontrunner was scheduled to work the laid-back crowd at the Goshen
Jazz Festival in northwestern Connecticut. But, uh, no one had
bothered to tell the Goshen Jazz Festival.
So Ned Lamont, arrived at the event in a red convertible with
the top down and driven by a magazine writer for GQ, had no one
to talk to when he arrived, except for the tight little scrum
of reporters gathered by the side of the road.
Lamont, the cable executive whose late surge has turned a sleepy
reelection campaign into the most energized primary in the country,
is having a lot of days like this.
On one hand, he is basking in the attention of the suddenly hot.
The actor Danny Glover campaigned for him Saturday. Adoring bloggers
dog his steps. Reporters from Hartford and Denmark and Washington
chronicle his every act.
But for a campaign that, by all indications looks like it is
about to make history on Tuesday, Lamont For Senate often lurches
along like a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants family operation.
There is more than a whiff of invention about the Lamont campaign.
The candidate's wife told me she is quite amazed at it all. She
remembers a cousin telling her last Christmas, "This is a
movement." But she only half believed her.
The candidate's mother, Buzz, pops up at Puerto Rican day festivals,
shocking the crowds with her fluent Spanish and with her stories
of being born and wed in Puerto Rico.
The candidate leaps from event to event, looking more than a
little dazed amd delivering stump speeches that always end with
the coda: "I'm Ned Lamont, and I approve this message."
For some reason, this line -- lifted from his television ads --
always draws a cheer.
But back to Saturday's jazz festival. When Lamont arrived and
there was nowhere for him to go, his campaign aides suggested
he wait in an air conditioned SUV. He invited me to join him,
so I climbed in the back seat and we took off down Route 63 to
kill a little time until the Lamont minions back at the festival
could figure out what to do next.
"We've got 72 hours to go," Lamont told me. "And
it's not a bad feelng."
He described a raucous hometown in Greenwich the night before
a "pretty jolly group." He did not mention what my NewsHour
crew documented: that Lieberman workers showed up to heckle him.
With the latest statewide polls putting him 13 points ahead,
Lamont is in a distinctly better position -- and in a distinctly
better mood -- than he was when the NewsHour visited in June.
Still, there is caution. "Polls are wonderful," he
said. "But they're meaningless in a primary being held on
It's true. Quinnipiac College polling director Douglas Schwartz
told us today he has no idea what kind of turnout to expect for
a primary held when even the most ardent voters would prefer to
be at the beach. He was polling again this weekend, nervously
trying to nail down the final trend line before Tuesday. (The
results will be out Monday.)
But the optimism is overwhelming the caution in the Lamont camp.
One aide told me today 11,000 new Democrats have registered to
vote since May -- 4,000 of those just in the end of last month.
Lamont thinks it's about more than the war in Iraq, but he acknowledges
anti-war sentiment plays a huge part.
"The people of Connecticut think the country is on the wrong
course," he said. "It's the old guard versus the new
guard; those who want to change course versus those who want to
stay the course."
Discontent over Iraq, Lamont believes, is emblematic of a more
generalized discontent with the direction of the nation.
Then, of course, there are the papier mache heads.
The two giant caricatures, mounted on a flatbed truck, are labeled
"The Kiss." The tableau purports to portray Senator
Lieberman and President Bush caught in the embrace the two men
exchanged at a State of the Union speech. "The Kiss"
travels all over the state, and it is an odd sight indeed tooling
up I-91 toward Hartford, hazard lights flashing.
Yes, this is an extraordinary campaign. No one can quite remember
another quite like it.
Rob Johnson, an old Lamont pal who is now helping him on the
campaign, stood off to the side as the candidate mingled at a
West Indian Independence celebration event at a downtown Hartford
He always thought his buddy Ned was a long shot. But now, he
said, it looks like events have combined to place Lamont in the
perfect political position.
"It's the perfect storm," he said.
Tomorrow: A look at Senator Lieberman on the trail.
-- By Gwen Ifill for the Online NewsHour