HARTFORD — Running as an independent, Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 clinched a decisive victory over Democratic rival Ned Lamont SOM ’80 Tuesday, bringing sighs of relief to Lieberman’s cross-party supporters in Hartford and disappointment at Lamont’s Meriden headquarters.
After edging out Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger, Lieberman announced in his victory speech that he would not rejoin the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate, instead vowing to bring drastic change to national politics by ending partisanship and forging unity.
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“I was elected today by voters of all political persuasions,” he said. “I promise you that I will go to Washington beholden to no political group, but only to the people of Connecticut and to my conscience.”
Lieberman defeated Lamont by a margin of 50 percent to 40 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Schlesinger captured 10 percent of the vote.
In his concession speech in Meriden, Lamont said his campaign had set in motion major changes to American politics.
“We ignited this spark,” he said. “It’s going to change the direction of our country in Iraq and change the direction of our country at home. We made a difference.”
Though Lieberman’s stunning defeat in the August Democratic primary came as a great blow to the campaign, he acknowledged on Tuesday that his primary loss ultimately had a positive effect on the election — both promoting increased dialogue and bringing new voters to the polls.
“I’m Joe Lieberman and I approve of this election,” he said in the beginning of his victory speech. “Not only that, but I deeply appreciate this election.”
Toward the end of the address, Lieberman called for a change of course in Iraq, citing a movement in Washington toward a new approach to the war.
“There is a growing bipartisan consensus for a new strategy to get the job there so we can bring our troops home sooner without endangering the security of the American people,” Lieberman said. “We need to change our national government from an arena of conflict and gridlock to a place of partnership and progress.”
This year’s race was itself more an arena of conflict than of harmony. Lamont, who started with minimal name recognition and support, surged to victory in the primary by running on an anti-war platform. But once Lieberman decided to run as an independent, the already bitter race also made issue of health care and civil rights to what Lieberman said was Lamont’s lack of political experience.
As Lieberman spoke, Marshall Shaffer ’07, who has worked for Lieberman for five years, said he could not believe the senator had pulled through. In spite of encouraging poll numbers in the weeks before election night, there was fear among campaign staffers that Lieberman’s position on the bottom of the ballot line would affect his chances, pushing campaign staffers to canvass the state educating voters on Lieberman’s unique position at the bottom of the ballot.
“I can’t believe he won!” Shaffer said to a friend, giving him a high-five. “I can’t believe it.”
Matt Lieberman ’89 LAW ’94, Joseph Lieberman’s son, said in an interview after the speech that his father stands for values that forge “common ground” — and that he cemented that ethos in his days at Yale.
“In his speech tonight, you certainly heard a good deal about ‘For God and For Country,’” Matt Lieberman said. “It probably would have been inappropriate on this occasion to talk about Yale — but it’s those values he was raised with really. His faith, his values form his politics.”
In a campus-wide poll conducted by the News this week, 41 percent of students surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Lamont, 27 percent of Joseph Lieberman and 4 percent of students for Schlesinger.
Lanny Davis ’67, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 during the Monica Lewinsky trial, said Yale students “didn’t do their homework” on Lieberman, since they probably based their vote only on one issue: the Iraq War. But Davis, a former chairman of the News, said if he were voting on a college campus in 1967, he probably would have based his vote solely on the Vietnam War.
“This is a victory for progressive Democrats who don’t believe in food fight politics,” Davis said. “Joe Lieberman is a liberal democrat, he’s voted that way all his life, and his record was distorted and people to this day from the Lamont campaign lied about his record. So this is a great victory for the truth.”
Following media reports calling the election for Lieberman, public sentiment at Lamont’s headquarters in Meriden quickly shifted from hopeful to disappointed as supporters — who criticized Lieberman for hurting the Democratic Party with his campaign bid — grappled with the fact that Lieberman, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, would return to Washington.
Carl Feen, former finance chairman for the state Democratic Party, said he felt that Lieberman abandoned the Democratic Party by choosing to run against Lamont after his loss in the primary.
“I was quite disappointed in him,” he said. “He created a lot of divisiveness.”
Like Feen, Sam Goldberger ’64, a classmate of Lieberman’s, said he was “dejected” over the results and thought Lieberman’s victory would hurt the public image of the Democratic Party.
“The Democrats will become more of a corporate-oriented party,” he said. “They’re going to abandon small ‘d’ democracy.”
After Lamont’s speech, Swan said he had lost because of Republican support for Lieberman and a lack of support from the Democratic Party for Lamont.
“Only Alan Schlesinger got less support from his party than Ned,” he said.
Before the race was called, Lamont supporters milled about, cocktails and cheese in hand, projecting optimism even as poll returns made it clear that Lamont would lose. Many said the war in Iraq was the major factor influencing their support for Lamont.
Greta Bergstrom, who worked for the advertising agency that produced Lamont’s campaign commercials, said her agency tried to reflect the importance of the Iraq issue in Tuesday’s election. The central focus of the advertisements they produced was to put pressure on Lieberman for his support of the war in Iraq, she said.
Lieberman, an hour after his victory, made his way through the crowd to a small fifth floor hotel room where his family and several dozen close supporters remained. Upstairs, he had an unlikely guest waiting for him: Schlesinger. His Republican foe, referring to his call for unity, somewhat jokingly asked if he could be included in that effort.
“You’re a good man,” said Lieberman, who soon picked up a beer to celebrate his fourth U.S. Senate victory.
In an interview, Schlesinger said the college generation faces a “cataclysmic” disaster in upcoming years and that the country needs young students to enter politics.
“A lot of people didn’t want to vote for me, because they thought I didn’t have a shot,” he said. “But the people have spoken, and the most important thing is that we’re moving forward in this country.”
At one point, Lieberman’s supporters broke into a rendition of “Hey, Hey, Goodbye,” referring to Lamont. But at his campaign headquarters, Lamont said that though he may take a break, he would not shy away from public service in the future.
Andrew Mangino reported from Hartford, and Jack Mirkinson reported from Meriden.