The back room of Naples Pizza became an arena of political discourse last night as local residents, reporters and Yalies filled tables and collected bumper stickers, flyers and free pizza in support of Ned Lamont SOM ’80, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator.

Lamont, who officially announced his candidacy on March 13, spoke in front of a packed room at the Wall Street pizza parlor as part of his self-styled “ground-up campaign” to gain support from Connecticut voters. Following a short speech, an open forum was held to allow residents from New Haven and surrounding towns the opportunity to ask questions and familiarize themselves with the candidate and his platform.

Lamont, a wealthy businessman from Greenwich who graduated from Harvard and Yale’s School of Management, is challenging sitting Sen. Joe Lieberman for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Among supporters and critics alike, Lamont is considered the more liberal candidate; most notably, he has openly criticized the policy of President George W. Bush ’68 regarding the war in Iraq and Lieberman’s support for Bush.

Benjamin Simon ’07, a member of Yale Students for Lamont and a volunteer for the Lamont campaign, said voter outreach efforts have been very successful. While he acknowledged that some are skeptical of Lamont’s ability to overcome Lieberman’s fame and financial means, Simon said state residents are growing increasingly dissatisfied with Lieberman’s role as a senator.

“It is clear that the Lieberman campaign is feeling the heat,” Simon said.

But many Democrats maintain their support for Lieberman. Christopher Gombeski ’09, who attended last night’s event, said Lamont is too quick to point blame at the expense of focusing on what actions he would take as senator. Gombeski said he also challenges criticism of Lieberman’s support of the war in Iraq.

“I think you can have a national security-oriented Democrat without that being a problem,” Gombeski said.

In his brief introductory speech, Lamont gave an overview of his platform, mentioning a range of issues from health care to education to environmental conservation. Lamont said he wanted voters to know he is concerned about a variety of issues, both domestic and international. During his speech, Lamont criticized a Lieberman-supported bill for a floating liquefied natural gas facility in the Long Island Sound, as well as Lieberman’s lack of commitment to state affairs.

“Right now, I just don’t think this government of ours is committed to good government,” he said. “We are going to rock the boat, and the boat needs rocking.”

After the speech, Lamont opened the floor to questions from the audience. One Guilford, Conn. resident who said he had first heard of the candidate on a recent NPR report asked about Lamont’s campaign strategy. Lamont said he is very much focusing on a campaign that appeals to voters and volunteers for phone calls, house parties, direct mailings and some radio and television ads later in the race.

When asked about his plans for energy conservation, Lamont praised the federal government’s role and progress in research, but urged more regulation of fuel mileage, insulation standards and possible tax incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Lamont also criticized Bush’s decisions in regards to the Kyoto Protocol, which he said is sending the wrong message to the global community.

Yale College Democrats President Brendan Gants ’08 said there is definite competition between Lieberman and Lamont. The Yale Dems, who is not officially endorsing any Senate candidate, said both candidates have unique messages and offer genuine diversity to voters.

The Lamont campaign’s next talk in New Haven will take place on Monday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at the Miller Senior Citizen Center on the corner of Dixwell and Whitney avenues.