Ned Lamont has had a rough fall.
After beating incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary, Lamont’s campaign lost both its focus and its momentum.
With the tacit support of the Bush White House and the Republican National Committee, as well as a “who’s who” of special-interest groups and their Washington lobbyists, Lieberman pieced together a sophisticated reelection campaign on his own “Connecticut for Lieberman” independent line. With relative ease, the senior senator and consummate Washington insider successfully repositioned himself as a reformer who wanted to put an end to partisanship.
The Lamont camp should have been able to expose the absurdity of Lieberman’s claims and put the incumbent on the defensive in the fall campaign – just as the challenger and his supporters did so ably in the primary race. Instead, the challenger’s campaign fumbled. Lamont’s campaign manager, Tom Swan, admitted in mid-October that, “We had a slow start after the primary. It was a short-term mistake…”
Precious time was lost in late August and early September, as the Lamont camp tried to frame new themes for the fall campaign. Instead of driving home the message that Connecticut can and must send a message to George W. Bush and those members of Congress – like Lieberman – who have steered the country into a disastrous war, the Lamont campaign seemed to edge away from the smart and effective anti-war message the took its candidate from obscurity to the Democratic nomination.
Perhaps most unfortunately, the Lamont campaign started to sound petty. The daily attacks on Lieberman wore thin. There was too much picayune pondering of whether the incumbent had broken a term-limits promise, and too little emphasis on “Bring the Troops Home” fundamentals.
The Connecticut Senate race was becoming less and less a referendum on the war and more and more a referendum on Lieberman – a candidate who, despite his flaws, had a long history with Connecticut voters. As the crucial month of October slipped away, the Hartford Courant reported that Lieberman and his aides were “confident they [had] made the race about more than an unpopular war.”
Polls have reflected that assessment. Lieberman has opened up a wide lead – 52 percent for the incumbent, 37 percent for Lamont, 6 percent for orphaned Republican Alan Schlesinger, in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted two weeks ago. Yet, the same poll found that 67 percent of Connecticut voters disapprove of George Bush’s handling of the war – and, by extension, the senator’s pro-war position.