With the backing of only 55 percent of Connecticut Democrats, Ned Lamont SOM ’80 unleashed one of his harshest attacks yet on Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in a speech at the University of Hartford this afternoon, comparing his opponent to Richard Nixon and accusing him of weakening American democracy.

Lamont also declared the Senate race to be “the most important in our lifetime.”

“Iraq is Joe’s war of choice, and he’s been its strongest and staunchest supporter every step of the way,” Lamont said. “This is the Washington of George [W.] Bush and Joe Lieberman. It is the Washington they have defended together, the Washington they have protected together, and the Washington they will settle for if you give them the chance. This is their Washington, but it doesn’t have to be ours.”

Lamont delivered sound bite after sound bite with little to lose and much to gain. Although Lamont — trailing 17 points behind Lieberman, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll — is the Democratic Party’s official nominee for U.S. Senate, almost half the state’s Democrats say they will vote for Lieberman. In an interview several hours before the speech, Lamont suggested why college campuses have been a focus in the next two weeks leading up to Election Day.

“We registered 30,000 new people during the Democratic primary, and a lot of those were young people who have not registered before,” Lamont said. “That made a significant difference.”

In response, the Lieberman campaign bemoaned Lamont’s “bizarre antics” in the past week, which, they said, are moving his campaign “from losing to laughingstock.”

“First they hold a press conference to charge Joe Lieberman with making up his involvement in the civil rights movement,” Dan Gerstein, the Lieberman campaign’s communications director, said in a statement. “Then they concoct a kooky conspiracy theory regarding our petty cash expenses from the primary and actually accuse Joe Lieberman … of trying to buy votes. All we can say to this is, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’”

An analysis of Lieberman’s public statements on the Iraq war that was published Tuesday in the New York Times showed that the senator has generally been far more likely to criticize Bush than to praise him.

In the speech, Lamont also accused Lieberman of being soft on President Bush by refusing to ask the hard questions and serving as “Enabler-in-Chief.”

“The only question left is this: Who will be the world’s last support of George Bush’s policy in Iraq?” said Lamont, who favors a 12 to 18 month deadline for pulling out of the country. “His dog Barney or his good pal Joe?”

But the Lieberman-Lamont drama presents questions beyond that of how to best win a war halfway across the world. The choice between the senatorial candidates has forced much introspection among Yalies since Lamont announced his candidacy in March.

Within months of the announcement, a new party of the Yale Political Union formed — the Party of the Left — to grapple with the unclear ideology of American liberals.

In a recent debate, the Party of the Left argued the resolution, “The Left Needs Lamont,” but the resolution failed. This may be fitting, as Lamont said in the interview that ideological labels no longer have meaning to him. He said Bush could hardly even be considered to be on the right.

“I don’t know what these words mean anymore,” Lamont said. “You look at George Bush … I guarantee you that Barry Goldwater would be rolling over in his grave.”

The Yale College Democrats said they have seen near-record turnout this year, in part due to the energizing effect of Lamont’s candidacy. President Brendan Gants ’08 said they reached a quick consensus on which candidate to endorse.

“We didn’t endorse in the primary, and after Ned Lamont won, we just felt that it would have been inappropriate for us as a Democratic organization to go our own way when the voters of Connecticut had already picked their candidate,” Gants said.

Other groups, such as the Yale College Republicans, do not support Lamont, of course, but unlike college Republican groups at some other Connecticut campuses — such as the University of Connecticut — the group did not endorse either Lieberman or Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger.

“We’re focusing on the congressional races,” said Alex Yergin ’06, president of the Yale College Republicans.

For some in New Haven, like Democratic gubernatorial candidate New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the Senate campaign is presenting other challenges. DeStefano, who is challenging incumbent Governor M. Jodi Rell, must grapple with the Lamont-Lieberman drama burying his coverage deep inside newspapers and late into television broadcasts.

“To be honest, it has been kind of a mixed blessing — it’s been good and bad,” said Derek Slap, DeStefano’s communications director. “Bad in the sense that certainly it’s knocked us off the front page more than once. It’s harder to get attention. The positive is that you’re going to see incredible voter turnout on Nov. 7. You’re going to see a lot of Democrats, a lot of progressives, you’re going to see people who want change, who are anti-incumbent.”

Lamont will be appearing with Wednesday with DeStefano and John Kerry ’66 at an event in East Hartford. Lieberman, who has been spotted frequently on campus, spent time today at a Connecticut high school and is holding a rally Wednesday in Stamford.