Lamont Talks About More Than The War

by Paul Bass | April 17, 2006 4:35 PM | | Comments (4)

One College Republican came for the free pizza. A couple dozen students came to hear more about an upstart candidacy they might want to support. And two out-of-town reporters (including the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, shown at left in bottom photo speaking with a College Democrat) showed up in New Haven Monday to check in on the surprising early success of Ned Lamont’s bid to unseat fellow Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Lamont addressed about 30 people at 1 p.m. inside the movie theater of Southern Connecticut State University’s spanking new Adanti Student Center. While the crowd was generally supportive of Lamont’s left-leaning challenge to the conservative Lieberman, student questioners pushed him to talk about more than his opposition to the Iraq war, the issue that propelled his candidacy two months ago.

Lamont obliged, differentiating himself from Lieberman on issues ranging from universal health care (for it) and Terry Schiavo (he said the federal government had no place butting in) to the environment (he denounced the Lieberman-supported energy bill) and gay marriage.

“If two people want to get married,” Lamont told the crowd, to applause, “God bless them.” Lieberman opposes gay marriage.

In a matter of weeks, Lamont, a political newbie who made his fortune starting a Greenwich-based cable company, has moved from a longshot protest candidate furious at Lieberman’s embrace of the Iraq war to the Story of the Year so far in Connecticut politics. He drew more than 4,000 individual donors in the first 45 days of his campaign, and close to 5,000 volunteers from across the country. Thrown off balance, Lieberman has publicly admitted he may bolt the Democratic Party and run as an independent in November if Lamont beats him in the Aug. 8 primary. Lamont has tapped into a wellspring of anger among Democrats across the state at both President Bush and at the three-term Sen. Lieberman. Lamont travels to California Wednesday to seek money and supporters in San Francisco and, he hopes, L.A.

He’s still in the honeymoon period, still being discovered. Monday’s stop attracted not just Murray of the Post national desk but an AP reporter preparing a story for the national wire. Like other Next New Thing anti-Bush Democrats — Howard Dean, Wesley Clark — Lamont will soon move to the more demanding spotlight phase, when the press and the public throw the same kind of tough questions at him that they now have for Lieberman.

In preparation, the Lieberman camp has sought to cast Lamont as a “one-issue candidate.” It hopes to frame the questions Lamont will face and move the attention away from the merits of the Iraq war, since a majority of voters in Connecticut, not just Democrats, disagree on the merits with Lieberman, who has been the Democrats’ most visible supporter of Bush’s policy.

Students interviewed at Monday’s SCSU event said they already agree with Lamont on the war and already have dropped Lieberman. They wanted to see what else Lamont had to say about issues facing the country.

One asked about the Bush administration’s decision to cut off aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and block contact by U.S. businesses.

“I always think talking is good. Diplomacy is good. You tend to negotiate with your enemies,” Lamont responded. He said he supports withholding government aid to the PA because of Hamas’ “evil rhetoric.” He does support humanitarian assistance by non-governmental organizations to prevent people from starving in the West Bank and Gaza, he said.

Responding to a question on Iran’s progress in developing nukes, he said “The answer is diplomacy” in concert with the Russians and West Europeans and India, “not bunker-buster bombs. All this axis of evil and rattling the saber makes the situation worse,” he said.

Lamont (pictured) spoke at length about Bush’s energy bill passed with Lieberman’s support, blasting its provisions that encourage Exxon-Mobil to drill for more oil rather than promoting independence from foreign oil. At several other points Lamont endorsed universal health care. He called it a “basic human right.”

And he reprised what’s emerging as a major campaign theme, his distaste for Congressional pork. He singled out the recent transportation bill that included 500 “earmarks,” or pet projects like a $250 million Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” tucked into the fine print to reward individual legislators.

“It’s part of the big easy for the career politicians in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “If you’re not screaming from the rafters, you’re part of the problem.”

He also endorsed U.S. Sen. Russell Feingold’s proposal to censure President Bush for his illegal domestic wiretapping. Lieberman opposed “scolding” the president with censure. “He was more than happy to scold Bill Clinton and support a censure” over Clinton’s sexual misadventures, Lamont noted.

The war did come up in the course of his remarks, of course. “We’re spending $300 million a day on a policy in Iraq that’s not working” and is draining money needed for public transportation, development of alternative energy sources, and universal health care, he argued.

Before Lamont arrived, one SCSU undergrad stopped by to grab a slice of Domino’s pizza. He had no intention of sticking around to hear the candidate. SCSU College Democrats President Nichole Daegele (shown with Lamont in this photo) challenged him.

“It says here,’ Free Pizza,’” responded the slice-grabber.

“You should come for Ned Lamont, not the pizza,” Daegele insisted.

The young man shrugged.

“Are you really going to take that pizza?” Daegele persisted.

“I’m a Republican,” he said, walking out with his slice.

“That’s exactly,” Daegele bid him, “what a Republican would do.”

To which he called over his shoulder, “Go Bush!”

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Posted by: TrueBlueCT | April 18, 2006 12:02 AM

Please don't think the Lamont/Lieberman August primary is a given. It isn't.

If Lamont is anywhere close to Lieberman in Joe's internal polls, Joe will pull out, and retreat to the general election, pointing his finger at the "people who show up to vote in Democratic Primaries." Polls can't gauge turn-out, and Joe won't risk an embarassing loss in a Dem primary. Not when Republicans love him!

Of course this will wreck the chances of our Dem Congressional challengers, come Novemeber. And it will be the end of DeStefano's bid to become our next Governor.

Joe is all about Joe, he said as much last weekend when he declared he wouldn't say no to an Independent run. Meanwhile, another 50 American soldiers have died so far this month.

Posted by: justin | April 18, 2006 5:12 AM

That's so true, it is what a Republican would do!
-Go Lamont!

Posted by: greenwitch | April 19, 2006 4:01 PM

It seems Lieberman stands behind the Bush administration in support of its "stance" against Iran. I guess that means he supports nuking Iran. If that is true, Lieberman has become too toxic for words.

Posted by: Drew Calvert | April 19, 2006 9:39 PM

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but that wasn't a College Republican. Matt's a Democrat, and the fact that this takes up more than one line in a an article is slightly worrying.

And unless something happens with Rell, Destefano will never be governor. His hands are tainted.

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