Edgewood Magnet School was buzzing this morning, because it is the polling station for Connecticut’s embattled Senator Joe Lieberman. New Haven residents had to squeeze past a throng of reporters, photographers and aggressive campaign supporters just to vote, which became nearly impossible when Lieberman arrived around 10 am. Gripping hands and kissing poll workers as he moved towards a row of voting booths, the incumbent sounded like a challenger. “I believe there is going to be a great uprising in Connecticut today,” he declared, citing recent polls that suggested a “turnaround” of support for his re-election. When a voter embraced the senator in a doorway and defended him as “no Johnny-come-lately,” Lieberman proudly told the reporters, “that’s the voice of the people!” Apparently both campaigns now agree that people-powered politics has hit Connecticut.
After casting votes with his wife and daughter, Lieberman stood before a large press gaggle to make the case Connecticut voters have heard all summer. He fights hard for the state, votes his conscience and remains an optimist, he explained, while quickly dismissing questions about his potential independent run in the event of a loss today. Responding to a question from The Nation about how the stiff primary challenge by anti-war candidate Ned Lamont would change his conduct if re-elected, Lieberman rejected the premise that voters were looking for him to change. “I’ve always worked hard for them,” he said. “I am always going to be accessible to the people of Connecticut.”
Other voters at the polling station disagreed. “I think he’s arrogant,” said Thomas McManus, a 56-year-old dentist who voted for Lamont. McManus said people he knew in the neighborhood were not surprised by the strong challenge to Lieberman, “because he’s been speaking as a Republican for years.” Down the block, Keith Groom, a 48-year-old lift-bridge operator explained that while he had voted “every other time” for Lieberman, this year was different because of the war. “I don’t even know what Ned Lamont stands for, but he’s gotta be better than Lieberman,” he added.
There were Lieberman supporters outside the school, waving “Vote Joe” placards and occasionally tussling with a young man holding a large sign that read “Worst Senator.” Some voters emerged proud to share their support for one of New Haven’s most famous residents. Victoria Morse, a 64-year-old teacher, said she was “voting for her neighbor” because Lieberman “had done a good job so far.” She also said she trusted him to fight a war on terror that was “not just in one location,” but with “cells in this country.” Other Democrats sounded similar themes. Sidney Cahn, a Yale physicist, said the primary challenge increased his “resolve” to support Lieberman. While Cahn is concerned about the war, he said the US should definitely not “cut and run.”
After separating himself from the crush of reporters inside the school, Lieberman departed through a side entrance where “Joe’s Tomorrow Tour Bus” waited. But one more member of the Fourth Estate was planted in the senator’s path. Hardball host Chris Matthews stood alone on the school steps–it must have been a breath of fresh Beltway air for Lieberman, who gets much better coverage in the DC area code. The hardball question came fast. Matthews asked whether Lieberman agreed with Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century British political philosopher, that representatives should try to vote their conscience, rather than discern the will of the people. Lieberman heartily agreed, stopping on the steps say he tries to “do what is right,” which is why “people are coming back” to him as the primary campaign closes.
After bounding the steps of his campaign bus, Lieberman turned and held a thumbs-up frozen in the air for the cameras. One photographer yelled out for a different gesture: “Peace sign! Peace sign!” And Lieberman obliged, briefly flashing the symbol of his detractors, who, like the majority of Americans, want an honorable end to a deeply flawed war.