The high school is only a few years old. I actually taught as a substitute in the old Suffield High School, and this building was an incredible, stunning improvement. The parking lot was a lot fuller than I had expected it to be. Suffield isn't known for being a hotbed of liberalism.
In fact, people had come from Suffield and from all over the region to see Lamont, if only because, as one woman bitterly remarked, we don't see as many candidates around here as people in other parts of the state. The auditorium wasn't full, but a crowd of probably 100-150 had gathered to hear Lamont. Many of them were either middle-aged or older people, although a few younger faces dotted the crowd here and there.
Lamont arrived a bit late, but was greeted with a standing ovation when he finally showed. He shook a few hands, then launched into his stump speech. The speech focused on the idea that "stay the course" was no longer an acceptable strategy. He started off a little slowly. He hesitated over a few lines, and his energy seemed a little low in the beginning. However, as in the debate, Lamont became much more dynamic and effective as he warmed up.
Perhaps deliberately (considering the audience), he started off by talking about the need for universal health care, not getting to Iraq until about midway through the speech. It was by and large pretty positive and focused on progressive policies, but he did have a few attacks to send Joe Lieberman's way. When talking about the energy bill and the influence of lobbyists, he said:
I know Senator Lieberman is often talking about reaching out, finding common ground: with Dick Cheney on the energy bill, or President Bush on Social Security, and I appreciate the thought about common ground, but I think it's so important that we send Democrats to Washington D.C. and start talking about common good.
This line drew huge applause.
But the most interesting part of the night was when Lamont wrapped up his stump speech and took questions from the audience. This is where Lamont seemed to be at his best. Perhaps it was the friendly crowd. These were Democrats who were concerned with a huge range of issues, from Iraq, Bush, what they felt was the miserable state of the country, to paying for health care and property taxes. He seemed at ease, and was able to express unqualified support for rolling back the Bush tax cuts (even though, as the questioner noted, this would mean Lamont himself would pay more in taxes), stem cell research and public financing of campaigns (!), although he wasn't sure if he favored term limits. He also responded to the idea of his supporters being a bunch of fringe lunatics by suggesting that, in fact, his campaign was helping to drag the country's politics back into the mainstream. When a woman in the crowd was complaining that candidates like Lieberman rarely come to northern Connecticut, Lamont pointed out that Lieberman was, in fact, there--in the form of a Lieberman staffer who was videotaping the event. Lamont waved to the staffer, to much laughter. The staffer sheepishly waved back.
The audience seemed smitten by Lamont. He is a good public speaker, although this didn't come across as well on television during the debate, and he has a kind of intense, personable charisma that people seem to like. He still doesn't quite seem like the kind of man who could possibly bring down one of the most prominent Democrats in America. Which maybe is why he's been so successful.