Lamont Appears Headed for Victory in Connecticut

In January, it seemed impossible that Ned Lamont might unseat the three-term incumbent senator from the state, Joe Lieberman. But early returns favor Lamont in a race where the key issue was Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It's primary day in a number of states, but perhaps the closest watched race is taking place in Connecticut. Three term Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is facing a stiff challenge from upstart Ned Lamont.

We're joined live now by NPR's Brian Naylor. He's following this race from Meridan, Connecticut. That's where Ned Lamont's campaign headquarters are. Brian, what are we seeing in results so far? Is there at this point a clear trend?

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Michele, it's been pretty much a trend favoring Ned Lamont, the challenger in this race, all night. But I must say, as the results continue to come in, the race has been getting a lot closer. We have about just a smidgeon over 50% of the precincts reporting, and Lamont has a four percentage point lead over Lieberman, 52-48%.

That's a little bit less. Lamont had a larger lead earlier in the night. Things are tightening up. Presumably the big urban centers, Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, are starting to come in. And so the race is tightening, but it's been trending in Lamont's direction all night.

NORRIS: So, unless there's a big turnaround, this is gonna be a big night for political newcomer Ned Lamont. What's going on over at Lamont's headquarters?

NAYLOR: Well, people are pretty pumped up, as you might imagine. They've been announcing the results over the PA system and people are cheering, and there's kind of a party atmosphere going on. There's a lot of energy. People feel like they have really accomplished something that no one thought possible back in January, when Ned Lamont first entered the race, and that is overtake a three term incumbent sitting Senator. And they feel pretty good about their chances of winning right about now.

NORRIS: Brian, you've been in Connecticut for a couple of days now. This race has been portrayed as a referendum on the war in Iraq. Is that the case? Is that the big issue?

NAYLOR: That is certainly the big issue, Michele. I went out to a polling place this evening to talk to some voters and I noticed that the flag was at half staff, and I later learned that flags all across the state are at half staff because it's in mourning of a Connecticut soldier killed in Iraq. And that is what's driving this race.

Everyone that you talk to who has said that they voted for Lamont says it's because of the war, because of their discontent with the war in Iraq, because that Senator Lieberman has consistently supported the war effort. There's some disenchantment with Senator Lieberman on a number of other issues. The fact they think he is a, his detractors say he's been too close to the Bush administration. Some old slights. The fact that he didn't resign his seat when he ran for vice president. People talk about that and say that he's been a little bit out of touch, maybe a little arrogant, not in tune with the folks back home.

But by and large, this race is about the war in Iraq. And I think it, as much as anything else, that it's a referendum tonight.

NORRIS: What about the home stretch, the messages in the last days of the campaign?

NAYLOR: Well, I think both sides have been, you know, the Lamont folks have certainly been playing up their opposition to the war. The sense that there's a lot of wasted resources that are going to the war effort that could be used on domestic programs.

Lieberman has been campaigning about what he's done for the state, the jobs he's brought to the state. He's talked about the (unintelligible) and how he saved that from being closed. And generally, what he has delivered for the folks in Connecticut.

NORRIS: Brian, we only have just a few seconds left. What about, is this, if the results hold and Lieberman loses, what's next for him? Is he gonna run as an independent?

NAYLOR: Lieberman says he'll run as an independent, but I suspect that he'll be reappraising that, depending on the outcome. If it's a very close race, he may well indeed stay in. But if it's a big win for Lamont, he'll be under a lot of pressure from the Democratic Party establishment to get out. Because there's a handful of House seats in this state that Democrats have their eye on and feel that a Lieberman independent candidacy could take away their efforts there.

NORRIS: Thank you, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Brian Naylor speaking to us from Meridan, Connecticut.

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