The third and final Senate debate Monday evening brought out tense emotions and bitter accusations from the candidates and audience members, but the three candidates discussed few new matters about policy.
A relaxed debate format featured questions from three media representatives and allowed for candidates to answer without any time constraints. Independent front-runner and incumbent Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, Democratic challenger Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and Republican Alan Schlesinger stuck to their talking points throughout the night, often ignoring questions that focused primarily on the issues central to the Lamont and Lieberman campaigns.
Questions centering on the war in Iraq played a prominent role in the debate, with Lieberman and Lamont returning to the issue often. Though Schlesinger also had the chance to discuss the Iraq war multiple times, he chose instead to focus on the contributions of illegal immigration to terrorism in the United States.
Lieberman tempered his support for the course the war has taken, but he emphasized his refusal to contemplate a planned withdrawal.
“The administration made mistakes in the execution of the war … [but] I am not prepared to fail,” Lieberman said. “I will work to succeed in Iraq.”
In response, Lamont stressed what he said he sees as Lieberman’s close relationship to President George W. Bush ’68, returning to stock phrases he has used throughout his campaign.
“It is not bipartisanship to rubber-stamp Bush’s rush to war,” Lamont said. “Our brave soldiers are stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war.”
He also criticized Lieberman for what he called the Senator’s attempt to silence critics of the war.
Meanwhile, Schlesinger offered a three-state solution for Iraq, in which Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions would have their own governments that would then meet to divide resources, primarily oil wealth.
Although some students said they skipped the debate in order to attend Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s policy discussion on campus, some students who watched the debate said they thought the candidates did not offer any new information about their policies.
Ezra Marcus ’10, who watched the debate on television, said he thought the attitudes of the candidates were more interesting than the specific policies they presented.
“Lamont [tried] to manufacture disagreement between him and Lieberman, [though] in practice, their policies end up very much the same,” he said.
On issues beyond Iraq, Lieberman and Lamont tried to distinguish themselves from one another, highlighting what they saw as differences in policy.
Lamont rallied his populist base over health care policy, resolving to “shake up” Washington insider politics. He reiterated his promise to support universal health care and force businesses to provide employees’ insurance.
“There is nothing more expensive than 47 million people without insurance,” he said.
Lieberman spoke about the numerous health care bills he has sponsored in his eighteen-year incumbency and said Lamont was ignoring his record. He also suggested a program in which Americans could buy into the same national health care plan afforded to congressional representatives.
The tensest moments came when the questions turned to how the campaign has been run. One media representative asked how much of the campaign material — commercials and mailings — was true.
After Lamont said he stood by all his statements and asked voters to check for themselves, Lieberman said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing from his opponent.
“You constantly distort and … just tell them lies,” Lieberman said, speaking directly to Lamont and looking disgusted.
Lamont responded furiously, defending his record, and accusing Lieberman of distorting the truth.
The tone and civility of the debate deteriorated further as a group of audience members mocked and interrupted Lieberman with loud singing and chanting before being quieted.
Debate etiquette suffered further during Lieberman’s concluding remarks, when the same hecklers began singing anew, disrupting Lieberman for another couple minutes. The singing ended only when Schlesinger stood up and yelled for quiet and respect for his opponent. All three candidates appeared frazzled by the end — Schlesinger looked angry, Lieberman insulted and Lamont nervous.
With two weeks remaining before the election, Lieberman has a 17-point lead over Lamont in the latest state-wide polls, but gains by Schlesinger among moderate conservatives could close that gap and increase Lamont’s chances.