Before I begin talking about Lamont speaking in Hamden last night, I want to point out that I had trouble finding parking in the combined parking lot for the Miller Library and the Hamden Senior Center. For those not familiar with Hamden, not being able to find parking on a Monday night at 7 at the Senior Center is as unlikely as seeing the Patriots play in Hartford.
Inside was packed as well; by my count, there were over 100 people there and it was standing room only in the back of the room (I included the two Lieberman staffers, one with video camera in tow, in my count).
After hearing stories about Lamont's lack of polish on the stump, I was pleasently surprised by the energy and enthusiasim (dare I say, fire) he displayed at the podium. Especially considering that this was his second of three speeches of the day. He was by no means perfect, if I was a staffer, I would do anything I could to get him to slow down - he stepped on several of his applause lines, but considering that he has only been campaigning for a couple of months, he was surprisingly good.
Right off the bat, he acknowledged that much of his support was anti-Joe and anti-war, and that he was there to explain who he was. He also acknowledged his lack of political experience and framed it as a positive: His pitch was that, as a small businessman and as an educator, if elected he would be a citizen legislator, and not as a legislator representing lobbyists and campaign contributors.
In talking about the Iraq war, he constrasted himself with Joe Lieberman by pointing out that "Staying the course is not a strategy." He said that our troops had been put into an impossible situation in the middle of a civil war and that it was time for the Iraqis to step up and take control. He also made the point, sure to appeal to people without ties to enourmous defense contracts, that the $250M per day (per day!) that is being spent in Iraq could be better use to rebuild infrastructure, rebuild schools, and on universal preschool.
In talking about energy policy, in addition to making the expected points about missed opportunities after 9/11, the Cheney/Lobbyist lovefest energy bill that many of the New England Senators (Republican and Democrat alike) voted against but Joe Lieberman voted for, and the need to make it an American mission to promote conservation and increase fuel efficiency, he also tied our energy policy directly to national security (a point The Hamden Daily News, in addition to labeling as Ned Lamont a picture of someone else, seemed to miss) in that our dependence on foreign sources of fuel makes us weaker as a country.
Note: In talking about the energy bill, Lamont said that if elected he would fight against legislation that was created in secret by lobbyists, delivered to Senators athe the last moment, and passed with no scrutiny. In doing so, he pointed out that Exxon-Mobil made record profits of $36 billion last year (yes Virginia, that is a b) and that (rough paraphrase) giving them money to incent them to drill for oil is like giving fish incentives to swim. He then cut off laughter and applause by jumping immediately into his next point.
Finally, Lamont addressed the primary race itself. He said that the CT party leadership doesn't like primaries, especially for safe seats, and he (obviously) disagreed. He made the point that CT is a progressive state that would not be losing a senator, but gaining a Democrat (applause cut off by next point...). He went on to describe himself as proud to be a Democrat and stated that, no matter the result of the primary, he would support the party in November.
During the Q&A, when asked to get specific about plans to exit Iraq (in a pretty aggresive question), he said that he would support pulling frontline troops out of harms way in the Sunni Triangle into the Shia desert immediately, but that US troops would have to remain for some time in a training/logistical/suuport role with an Iraqi and/or international face. He made the point that we need to step back before the Iraqis would step forward (and contrasted it directly with the administrations view that we would step back when the Iraqis stepped forward).
To avoid accidently writing a book instead of a blog post, here are the (brief) capsules of the answers to the more interesting questions:
- On Iran: Stop rattling sabers; use direct diplomacy and convince Russia and China to bring their pressure to bear
- On Public Transportation - rebuild infrastructure, but also provide cities with high quality education, housing, and jobs so that people will want to live there again and thus take cars of the road; increase rail use
- On Illegal Immingration/Border Security - No to the wall; Yes to employer sanctions; mostly in favor of Kennedy/McCain comprehensive approach with the caveat that guest workers should not be used to drive down wages - there are no jobs that Americans wont do for good pay and benefits (guess what he did next? If you said, waited for applause to finsih, you would be wrong)
- On Single Payer/Universal Health Care - In favor, but will have to happen in incremental steps - 1. If you work a 40hr/wk, you get insurance (will take care of 70% of 47MM uninsureds); 2. Let small business owners buy into government programs; 3. Government helps take load off of employers
- On No Child Left Behind - Its unfunded and all sticks, no carrots; Its unfair in that schools are judged on performance, but kids get to the schools already behind; Tests (and the school-pressure to prepare for them) takes away from time that kids could be learning
- On Right to Choose - Would have led the fight against the confirmation of Justice Alito; views his appointment as a fundemental shift on the court
- On a Debate - would love to debate all the time (what a surprise for an underdog!) and has offered to debate, but Lieberman declined
The evening ended with a standing ovation.
Some final thoughts: Just based on simple math, it would be difficult for Lamont to beat Lieberman (although the combination of Bush's low poll numbers in CT and Lieberman's lowered numbers among liberals make it a little easier). That said, before last night, I had thought it was an impossibility. That no longer is the case; last night, for the first time, while watching ordinary citizens crowd in to the Senior Center and while watching their enthusiastic response to the speech, I actually had the thought that he could beat Joe Lieberman.
Don't misunderstand me. This is not a prediction (Lamont fans will take heart; I have incorrectly predicted that the Knicks would be competitive for 8 years running) - he is an overwhelming underdog with a 10:1 cash disadvantage. And the structural impediments to defeating an incumbent are intense (another post for another time). But it is a possibility. And the Lieberman ads and his staffers showing up at Lamont events (with video cameras) are evidence that Lieberman and his staff have recognized the possibility and are reacting to it.
Finally, based on the stature (or lack thereof) of the possible Republican challengers and the blueness of CT as a whole, this seems to be a safe seat (assuming that no one makes this a three way race) no matter which Democrat wins the primary. So, if you are a Democrat, vote your conscience and may the best man win! And here's to hoping that we get a Democratic debate before the primary...