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Seismic Shift for Dems
Published on Thursday, August 10, 2006 by the New York Daily News
Seismic Shift for Dems
by Juan Gonzalez
 
Elaine Pivirotto sat on a lawn chair in front of Bassick High School on the city's rundown South End, two wide-eyed college volunteers at her side, a pile of Ned Lamont for Senate flyers on her lap, and a political earthquake under her feet.

All over the nation yesterday the politicians were looking to Connecticut, searching for signs that a primary challenge by this unknown, upstart millionaire named Lamont against Joe Lieberman, one of the Senate's most powerful Democrats, would fizzle into a momentary tremor.

After all, this is America. Incumbents from either major party win more often than the Yankees. For a three-term senator like Lieberman to get beaten in his own party's primary is a 9 on the Richter scale.

"It's the war," said Pivirotto, a city councilwoman for four years. "I can't stand watching it ... to see so many people dying."

Fed up with Lieberman's dogged defense of the war, she bucked her own party bosses in May and became one of the few Lamont delegates from Bridgeport to the state's Democratic convention.

One of those walking by to vote was the Rev. Richard Nichols of the New House of Prayer Church.

"I fought in Korea and I don't like wars," said Nichols, 72, who was wearing crisply pressed white pants and a white Panama hat.

"When we found out they lied about those weapons in Iraq, that's when they should've stopped this thing," he said, but he refused, when asked, to divulge how he'd vote.

"That's between me and God," he said with a wink and smile. Then he turned serious and added: "No one should forget the good things Lieberman did. But this war has gotten out of hand, and God is not pleased."

A few miles away, at sprawling Central High School in a neighborhood of stately middle-class homes, social worker Lucille Bish was furious at Lieberman as she headed into the polls.

"We've got to get him out," Bish said. "He acts like Bush, he's for this war and he won't promise to support whoever wins the primary."

One of the many Lamont supporters giving out palm cards in front of the school was Bob Walsh, a city councilman for 20 years who had always backed Lieberman in the past.

"If he had said three or four months ago, 'I made a mistake in backing the war,' but instead he dug in his heels," Walsh said. "How can anyone justify our spending $250 million a day to keep up this chaos in Iraq?"

And so it was all over Bridgeport and much of Connecticut. A single race had emerged almost overnight into a Democratic referendum on the Bush war.

The challenger Lamont was not some John Kerry promising voters he'd fight a smarter war than Bush. Or Hillary Clinton trying to mask her pro-war stance with some calculated wrist slaps of Bush tactics.

This was a straight-talking candidate calling Iraq the disaster it is and demanding we get out. This was someone standing up to pro-war Joe Lieberman, just as Eugene McCarthy came out of nowhere in 1968 to challenge President Lyndon Johnson and demand we get out of Vietnam.

And it did not matter back then that McCarthy lost, because his campaign awakened a generation of young people. It forced the Democratic Party, and eventually the whole nation, to confront the horrors and failure of Vietnam.

This time around, the campaign of a Greenwich millionaire, whose Republican Quaker grandfather refused to fight in World War I, forced Connecticut Democrats to decide on Iraq, a conflict that has already destroyed so many lives and sullied America's name around the world.

Few campaigned more strongly for Lamont the past few weeks than national black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Rep. Maxine Waters from Los Angeles, head of the Out of Iraq Caucus in Congress.

"We finally found a Democratic candidate with the courage to stand up against this war," Waters said. And that's what it took for the earthquake to start. Where it ends we may find out come November.

© 2006 Daily News, L.P.

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