Ned Lamont tries to carve out some middle ground

Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont attempted to remove the partisan labels from his race with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and stressed his ability to work with lawmakers of all persuasions at a breakfast with reporters in Washington yesterday.

By Aaron Blake

Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont attempted to remove the partisan labels from his race with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and stressed his ability to work with lawmakers of all persuasions at a breakfast with reporters in Washington yesterday.

Lamont gained national attention last month by defeating Lieberman, a three-term moderate, in the Democratic primary. He was in town to collect some of the spoils of the Democratic party’s support.

He acknowledged that the liberal blogosphere played a large role in his victory, referring to the netroots as “the girl that I took to the dance” and said the party’s help will be paramount in winning in the general. But he emphasized the importance of bipartisanship multiple times during the breakfast, which was hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Lieberman has decided to run as an independent in the general election, setting up a rematch of the Aug. 8 primary, which Lamont won 52 to 48 percent. The race also includes Republican Alan Schlesinger, who doesn’t have the state or national party’s support and is registering single-digits in the polls. Several Republicans, meanwhile, have endorsed Lieberman’s independent bid.

Over the course of the hour-long breakfast, Lamont said he would not support the impeachment of President Bush, that he would not vote to cut off funds to the war effort in Iraq and that Lieberman’s candidacy could cause some problems for three Democratic House challengers in Connecticut, even though he expected them to win.

Democrats have cast Lamont’s victory as a rebuke of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which Lieberman has supported, while Republicans say it’s an example of the Democratic Party purging a member for being too moderate.

Now Lamont appears to be trying to cultivate other segments of the electorate and shedding the stereotypes associated with the liberal blogosphere — mostly that it is extreme and unwilling to compromise.

In perhaps the most interesting exchange, Lamont was asked toward the end of the breakfast whether he would vote for Lieberman to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He had said earlier that Lieberman’s ascension to defense secretary would represent a “lateral move” to the leadership of Rumsfeld, who many Democrats think should resign.

Yet he wrestled with the question for about 30 seconds before deciding that he didn’t think he would vote to confirm Lieberman.

Rumsfeld has been under fire for comments he made last week in a speech criticizing the war’s critics, and Democratic leaders have said they will push for a vote of no confidence in the secretary this month. Lieberman has long been rumored as a possible replacement, despite his party affiliation.

“I know the man, I respect the man — he’s a man of integrity,” Lamont said of Lieberman. “I’ve never spoken ill of him throughout this entire campaign. But he’s been so wrong on one of the biggest issues of the day for so long that the idea that he would go take over as secretary of defense — I just couldn’t do it.”

In the first of many allusions to bipartisanship, Lamont said he didn’t know why the process of evaluating Rumsfeld had to be partisan. He contrasted it with the smooth leadership transition at Ford Motor Company that was described in the morning’s papers.

“I just don’t know why, in Washington, we can’t look at the facts and come to the same conclusions and agree to do it as gracefully as Ford seemed to have today,” Lamont said.

Lamont, who won largely thanks to the anti-war and anti-Bush vote, said his task would have been much tougher without Lieberman’s stance on the war and relationship with Bush.

He began by lamenting the 132,000 troops “stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war” in Iraq, but said he would not vote to cut off funding for the war. Instead, he said putting pressure on the administration would be a better alternative, predicting that the American people will lead the effort.

On the question of whether President Bush should be impeached, Lamont said he would oppose such a move if Democrats take power because the process was politically abused during President Clinton’s impeachment and he “can’t bear putting the nation through that again.”

He also said he doesn’t “see anything that I would call an impeachable offense,” even though he thinks the president’s domestic wiretapping program is illegal. He also wouldn’t commit to a censure resolution, as Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has proposed, but said he would encourage hearings to evaluate the president.

When asked about the three House races in his state, which are crucial to Democrats’ quest to take over that chamber, Lamont said his victory “cuts both ways” but that he thought Democrats would succeed.

“We have Joe running on his own ticket, and that’s going to be a little tougher for some of the under-ticket, because the Republican congressmen have already endorsed — or all-but-endorsed — Joe Lieberman,” Lamont said. “So that gives them a leg. But we’re going to win. … We’ve energized a whole group of people.”

One of the three Republican incumbents in trouble, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), recently criticized Bush and Rumsfeld and declared his support for a timeline after returning from his 14th trip to Iraq. Lamont offered tepid praise for Shays’ change of heart but also expressed skepticism about his motives.

“I salute people that change their mind. … Somehow in politics, that makes you [appear] weak,” said Lamont, who went on to question the timing of Shays’s announcement, which came just more than two months before the election.