Lieberman reaches out to local voters

Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 played the early bird Sunday morning with a campaign stop at Temple Street’s Diner 21, where the embattled politician chatted with voters, trying to spread his cheery optimism and convince the breakfasting families that he is still a thoroughly grounded Connecticut native, despite his 18 years in Washington.

Since Ned Lamont SOM ’80, now the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, defeated Lieberman in the August primary, Lieberman has been working hard to counter Lamont’s charges that he had become out of touch with his home state. The Diner 21 stop was part of the Lieberman campaign’s “Joe’s Doors and Diners” effort, which has sent the senator around the state shaking hands and reminding voters of his history as their elected representative.

The visit also coincided with the release of the campaign’s third television ad, which focuses on the senator’s record since 1970, when he was first elected to the state senate. The ad references Lieberman’s participation in the 1960s civil-rights march and his support for the environment as a state senator and later as Connecticut’s attorney general.

But Sunday at 9:45 a.m., when Lieberman arrived, the connections he tried to make while wandering from table to table were much more immediate. One woman told the senator she was a professor of fiction writing at Southern Connecticut State University, and the senator, who used to live in the Westville neighborhood near the school, reminisced momentarily about the days when SCSU was just a teacher’s college, not a full-fledged university.

As he shook hands and took snapshots with the patrons — no more than six of the diner’s tables were full — the senator returned repeatedly to one theme: his optimism about the nation’s progress.

“I’ve got a good feeling about where we are now,” he told one elderly couple who used to live in New Haven but have since retired to Florida. “It’s going to turn soon.”

But while a number of those inside the restaurant said they were undecided about the election, they welcomed Lieberman’s visit. He was not so warmly welcomed on the sidewalk outside, where Ed Anderson ’91 and Keith Crane, two local Lamont supporters, were picketing against the Iraq war, as they said they do at all of Lieberman’s New Haven campaign events.

Having arrived at Diner 21 bright and early, the two spoke briefly with Scott Overland, Lieberman’s deputy press secretary, who tried to answer the pair’s questions on why Overland, a Democrat, works for a candidate who polls better among Republicans than Democrats.

“I think a lot of Republicans don’t like their guy (Alan Schlesinger),” Overland said. “They’ve got to vote for someone.”

The high approval ratings for Lieberman among Republicans might be his key to victory. According to an Aug. 17 poll by Quinnipiac University, Lieberman has 49 percent of the vote to Lamont’s 38 percent, though only 35 percent of Democrats said they would vote for the incumbent senator.

On Sunday morning, Lieberman said he is not overwrought from the election. He recently moved to downtown New Haven, to an apartment on Chapel Street, and he said he has been enjoying taking morning walks through the Yale campus and through nearby Grove Street Cemetery, where he has been strolling since he was a law student and his professor urged the students to go there to unwind.

“‘If you ever feel stressed or overwhelmed by your work, just cross the street,’” Lieberman recalls his professor saying. Now, though, he insists that he just considers the cemetery “just a beautiful place to walk. … The last thing I’d want you to think is that I’m stressed.”

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