Lieberman beaten in Conn. primary

Democrats reject 3-term U.S. senator

August 09, 2006|By MARK PAZNIOKAS | MARK PAZNIOKAS,HARTFORD COURANT

Hartford, Conn. -- With the nation watching, Connecticut Democrats thronged to the polls in unexpectedly high numbers yesterday to reject Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and endorse his anti-war challenger, Ned Lamont.

Unofficial results showed Lamont winning 52 percent of the vote, defeating a three-term incumbent who had come to be defined by his defense of the war in Iraq, despite an advertising blitz begging voters to judge him on a progressive labor and environmental record.

Lieberman, 64, a vice presidential nominee in 2000 and a presidential hopeful only two years ago, conceded shortly after 11 p.m. in a Hartford ballroom packed with national and international media attracted by the prospect of a preview on the mid-term congressional elections.

But he immediately reiterated his vow to run as an independent candidate, setting up a November rematch that could distract from Democrats' efforts to oust Republicans this year.

"We finished the first half, and the Lamont team is ahead," Lieberman told campaign supporters, with his family fanned out behind him. "But in the second half, our team - team Connecticut - is going to surge forward to victory."

Lamont, 52, a wealthy Greenwich cable-television entrepreneur who became the unlikely champion of a potent anti-war movement, celebrated in a Meriden hotel filled with supporters who ran the gamut from a former state party chairman to a new brand of activist: Internet bloggers.

"We've got almost 30,000 new Democrats registered, a lot of them in the last few weeks alone," Lamont said shortly before the polls closed. "I think that means we've got a lot of folks who are getting engaged, involved - and know this race is making a difference."

Some came to the polls with a passion, certain for months they would either stand by Lieberman or reject him over the war. Others struggled with their decision until entering the voting booth, uneasy over rejecting a man who held statewide office for 26 years.

Sam Goldenberg gave his mother, Minnie Goldenberg, a ride to the polls in West Hartford so she could cast her usual vote for Lieberman. Then he drove home to West Haven and canceled his mother's choice with a vote for Lamont.

"The war is the main issue," he said, almost sadly. "Actually, Lieberman is a pretty good guy, but the war is simply the most important issue."

Lamont rolled up lopsided margins in the Farmington Valley, Litchfield County, the lower Connecticut River Valley and scattered suburbs around the state. He narrowly won Lieberman's hometown of New Haven, which first elected Lieberman to the state Senate in 1970.

Lieberman dominated in the New Haven suburbs, the struggling rural towns of eastern Connecticut and old mill towns of the Naugatuck Valley, home of conservative Reagan Democrats and the place he chose to begin his campaign bus tour 10 days ago.

The two candidates fought nearly to a draw in Bridgeport and Hartford, despite the mayors of both cities endorsing Lieberman.

At 11 a.m. today, Lieberman will be on the outside looking in on a Democratic unity news conference, where it was expected he would face pressure to abandon his plans to continue as a petitioning candidate in a three-way race with Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger.

His advisers had urged him to delay any decision for a week to 10 days, allowing time for polling to show how badly his loss damaged him and how an independent run might be viewed. In past polling, Lieberman easily won in a three-way race.

At the Goodwin Hotel in Hartford, the ballroom was evenly divided among supporters, including Connecticut Rep. John B. Larson, and reporters.

One of the news crews was from a Japanese TV network. Correspondent Yasushi Komatsu traveled with a cameraman and producer from the New York bureau of TV Asahi America Inc., because of the Lieberman-Lamont primary's significance in Japan.

"People in Japan are interested in the war in Iraq and how it is going to develop," he said. "The result of the election could be interpreted to mean the American people are saying yes or no to what Bush is doing in Iraq."

Early yesterday, the Lieberman campaign complained that hackers had disabled their Web site and demanded state and federal investigations.

Lamont's campaign focused on a huge field organization, staffed with thousands of volunteers.

Urania Petit, 37, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the West Indian island of St. Lucia, said she always found American politics lacking the passion of her homeland, until opinion turned against the war and Lamont launched what he called a campaign for "the heart and soul of the Democratic Party."

"This is the first one," said Petit, a volunteer at Lamont's North Hartford satellite office on Albany Avenue. Carrie Saxon Perry, the former mayor, said, "You have a moment in history. People understand that."

At King Philip Middle School in the north end of West Hartford, turnout hit 40 percent by 2:30 p.m., surprising party leaders who thought a high turnout would be 35 percent.

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