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Lamont Opens Senate Fight
Published on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 by the Hartford Courant (Connecticut)
Lamont Opens Senate Fight
Calls Lieberman `Republican Lite'
by Mark Pazniokas

Ending two months of exploratory campaigning, Ned Lamont debuted Monday as a full-fledged challenger to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, promising a debate on the war in Iraq and a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

Lamont, 52, a Greenwich cable television entrepreneur with deep pockets and liberal politics, promised a hard challenge from the left for a Democratic nomination that has gone to Lieberman without opposition since 1988.

Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont waves to the crowd and is applauded by family and supporters at the Old State House in Hartford, Conn., Monday, March 13, 2006. Lamont , a Democrat, announced that he will seek the U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut presently held by three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Lieberman's support for invading Iraq may be the catalyst for a challenge to a three-term incumbent whose candidacy he once supported financially, but Lamont said his differences with the senator go deeper than the war.

He described Lieberman - an iconic politician who was the first Jew on a presidential ticket as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 - as a "Republican Lite" and "George Bush's favorite Democrat," too cozy with the GOP and too distant from his Democratic roots.

"We're going to fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party," Lamont told more than 100 supporters at the Old State House. "With your passion, your enthusiasm, the grass roots, the Net roots - we're going to show people on a hot day in August that we can win. We can win not by being Republican Lite, but by being proud Democrats."

A primary would be held Aug. 8. Lamont is expected to qualify for it easily, either by winning support from 15 percent of the delegates to a nominating convention May 20 or by gathering signatures from 2 percent of registered Democrats.

Lieberman's campaign monitored the announcement and quickly accused Lamont of negative campaigning, signaling that the senator views Lamont as a serious threat in a Democratic primary, where the voters tend to be liberal.

"Attacking Sen. Lieberman's character and integrity was a predictable but dishonorable way to begin this campaign," said Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager. "Mr. Lamont is clearly going to run a very negative and angry campaign where the truth doesn't get in the way."

Smith said Lieberman has solid progressive credentials and gets high marks for his voting record from organized labor, the abortion rights movement, environmentalists and civil rights activists.

Tom Swan, Lamont's campaign manager, said Lamont attacked Lieberman's record, not his integrity.

"That's what their focus groups tell them they have do, portray Ned as angry. That's asinine," Swan said. "We're going to talk about Lieberman's record. It would be a good record - for a Republican from Mississippi."

One of the speakers introducing Lamont was Max Medina, a Bridgeport school board member and a director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. He promised Lamont would be a leader on abortion rights and civil rights, including gay marriage.

Medina said he met Lamont years ago, after the businessman began volunteering at Harding High School in Bridgeport, where he teaches a course on starting a business.

Lamont was flanked by his wife, Annie, a venture capitalist, and their children: Emily, 18, Lindsay, 14, and Teddy, 12.

His parents, Edward and Camille, stood behind him, but his mother disappeared from the stage to take snapshots.

His audience Monday was short on household names, though David Pudlin, the former state House majority leader, and Nicholas Carbone, the dominant Democratic leader in Hartford during the 1970s, sat in the front row.

Thomas D'Amore Jr., a former Republican who managed Lowell P. Weicker Jr.'s successful third-party campaign for governor, stood in the back.

He will act as an adviser to Lamont, who also has consulted with Weicker, the man Lieberman unseated in 1988.

The Democratic establishment is with Lieberman.

"They tell me, `Ned, don't rock the boat,'" Lamont said in a quavering voice, mocking party leaders. "Baby, I say it's high time we rock the boat."

Lamont intends to campaign on the full range of progressive Democratic issues, including universal health care and abortion rights, but his comments on the war generated the most enthusiastic applause Monday.

Bush and Lieberman have dragged the U.S. into a civil war that has made the world a more dangerous place, he said.

"They said the war would be easy. They said we would be greeted as liberators. And here we are three years later, America is no safer. Israel is no safer. The Middle East is destabilized. Iran is on the prowl. Osama Bin Laden is still on the prowl. We have 135,000 troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war," he said. "And I say that those who got us into this mess should be held accountable."

Lamont told reporters that he and Lieberman have "fundamentally different" exit strategies.

"The senator and the president are joined at the hip on this. They say we won't start bringing our troops back until the Iraqis step forward," Lamont said. "I say the Iraqis won't step forward until we start bringing our front-line troops back, move them to the periphery, get them out of harm's way and let the Iraqis know it's their destiny, and they're responsible."

Lamont also showed a playful side.

He said he found inspiration for part of his speech from an unlikely source: Lieberman's speech making the case 18 years ago that Weicker did not deserve re-election.

"`Connecticut needs a senator who will bring new energy to Washington and new help back here in Connecticut,'" Lamont said, quoting Lieberman. "`Connecticut needs a senator who will put Connecticut first.'"

His audience laughed and cheered.

"Sen. Lieberman," Lamont said, "those words are just as true today as they were 18 years ago."

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant


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