Colin McEnroe has two thoughtful posts about the problems facing the Lamont campaign here and here. The Courant is running a piece labelling Lamont an amateur on today's front page.
Two months ago, this guy could do no wrong. He came from nowhere to take down a titan in August, while the entire world watched.
Since then it's been a slow slide downhill. The latest polls show him trailing Lieberman by double digits. He has lost whatever momentum he had from his August victory, while Lieberman seems to have been invigorated, rather than dismayed, by his loss.
Why? What happened?
Perhaps what's most significant is what didn't happen. Following his historic victory, Ned Lamont took the rest of August off, or so it seemed. He didn't really get his act together for the general election until September, by which point Lieberman had gained crucial ground.
Lamont also lost control of the story. He was great as an underdog, and that was his story. He was a tenacious underdog. What does he have now that that's gone? He won the primary, which raised expectations. Somehow, it was easier when no one really expected them to win.
Coverage of the race has shifted. Lamont's media honeymoon ended with the summer. Now Lamont is just a rich, inexperienced liberal who is behind in the polls, instead of a populist insurgent who had tapped into something larger than himself. The national blogs and other media who covered every detail of this race are focusing on other races and issues. It's just Ned, Joe and Connecticut, now.
Worse, Joe Lieberman has his game back.
Lieberman didn't disappear like Lamont and his supporters had hoped. It's as if the victory on August 8th was stolen from them. They had won an historic and exhausting primary race against an entrenched opponent, only to discover that all they had actually won was a ticket to round two, against the same guy, but this time with different rules. It must have been a nasty blow to morale.
So much of Lamont's support came from anger at Joe Lieberman. Lieberman's approval ratings sank, especially among Democrats. Lieberman made matters much worse by running a terrible primary campaign, during which he started to seem more like a cranky, power-hungry old jerk rather than a seasoned statesman. His campaign was relentlessly negative, attacking Lamont on every front he could think of. People forgot why they liked him in the first place.
In his concession speech, and in a speech a few days before the primary, Lieberman began to turn himself around. He started to use his reputation as a Democrat who works with Republicans to his advantage, and began a campaign against partisan politics. One of Lamont's objections to Lieberman during the primary was that he wasn't partisan enough, which helped Lieberman all the more.
Lamont has tapped into anger about Iraq, very true. And there's a lot to be said for that. Diane Farrell is using it as pretty much her sole campaign tactic, and she's running neck-and-neck with Shays. But Lieberman has tapped into something that runs a lot deeper: the frustration people feel after twelve years of ever-increasing partisanship.
Lieberman has at times made this worse by giving the Republicans ammunition to use against his party, and he's less a bridge builder than a simple rebel.
But maybe it doesn't matter. People want change in Washington, and suddenly Joe Lieberman, despite his four years of support for the Iraq War and eighteen years of not putting an end to partisanship, is offering it to them. This ad of Lieberman's is particularly compelling and simple.
Lamont has so far been unable to counter him.
An Early Winter?
So what now? The debates are coming up. Lamont did all right in the only debate of the primary season, in large part because Joe Lieberman seemed angry and bitter instead of calm and statesmanlike.
These debates should be different. Lieberman doesn't seem angry anymore--he seems determined. He has a vision. It may be a somewhat flawed vision, but it's there. It resonates.
The race isn't over yet. Lamont does well when he's behind, which he certainly is now. This one could still shift, especially if Lamont can do well in the debates. This race has always had the capacity to surprise us. Maybe Ned Lamont has one more surprise left.