Tom Morissey, a retired New Haven police detective, is very, very excited. Monday night he put on a public forum for Ned Lamont, the liberal Greenwich businessman who is challenging Senator Joe Lieberman in a primary this summer. The mood in the room, says Morissey, was "electrifying," adding, "That's not a word you'll hear in connection with Joe Lieberman."
After eighteen years as a Democratic Senator from Connecticut, with his $7 million bankroll and national name recognition as a former Vice Presidential candidate, Lieberman is a formidable foe.
Ever since he beat liberal Republican Lowell Weicker in 1988, with the help of William F. Buckley Jr., Lieberman has been a rightwing Democrat. But in recent years things have gotten worse. His unqualified support for the Bush Administration, even in its moments of greatest failure, has been unparalleled.
As Benjamin Simon writes in the Yale Daily News, "Perhaps Lieberman's most galling characteristic is his willingness to appear in conservative media and to publicly and unreservedly bash Democratic policies and other Democrats. As a Democrat with a bullhorn, Lieberman can and does do more harm to the Democratic message machine than any Republican. It is no surprise then that his approval rating is 15 points higher among Republicans than among Democrats or that he has fundraising parties hosted by Republican lobbyists."
Morissey, who is heavily involved in local Democratic politics in Hamden, Connecticut, has been part of a group that has spent years trying to persuade various Connecticut Democrats to run against Lieberman, with no luck. But now they've found a candidate willing to take on the pro-Bush Democrat in no uncertain terms.
Lamont, a cable TV entrepreneur, is an opponent of the Iraq War. He’s pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, and a vocal critic of the President's extralegal wiretapping program. He’s appalled by the job the Bush Administration has been doing. "The $250 million a day we are spending in Iraq is better spent on preschool and health care, public transit, and veterans' benefits," he said in his announcement speech.
Reaching voters with his message is Lamont's main challenge at the moment.
"The problem with Ned Lamont," Morissey concedes, "is who the hell is he?"
Lamont is building a grassroots movement to win over delegates to the state Democratic Party convention in May (he needs 250 out of some 1,600 to get on the primary ballot), going from town to town talking at public meetings and small party gatherings. If he doesn't get enough delegates, he needs to collect 1,500 signatures in a statewide petition drive. Already, the campaign seems to be gearing up to collect the signatures--partly as a way of keeping itself in the public eye. Then comes the primary on August 8.
Morissey is sure that anti-Lieberman sentiment in the state is so strong that Democratic voters will come out in droves just to say no to Joe. He cites the Senator's coziness with the Bush Administration, his support for the Iraq debacle, and, most recently, his refusal to question Donald Rumsfeld's handling of his job, and comments to the press that he might consider running as an independent instead of as a Democrat.
"Too many Democratic elected officials have become so complacent, almost to the point of not realizing what they are supposed to be about," says Morissey, "Lieberman is the best example."
"We're gonna win," says Morissey. "I'm pragmatic. I'm a cop. I'm not some wacko out there in left field. This guy [Lamont] is legit. What I saw last night in a diverse crowd of educated people--not Harvard or Yale, but just little old educated people--is they know the difference between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. They know when they're being deceived and betrayed."
Lamont has enough personal wealth to give his campaign a kick-start, and the grassroots excitement about his campaign seems to be building.
Ray Hackett, a veteran political reporter in Norwich, Connecticut, writes, "I think it's possible that Lamont could pick up 30 to 35 percent of delegates. If he does, Lieberman is in the battle of his political life."
"The dynamics of this campaign can shake the shit out of the Democratic party," says Morissey. "And it's about time."