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Ned Lamont: The Truthdig Interview
Posted on Apr 25, 2006
By Blair Golson
During a speech at a Connecticut state fundraising dinner last month, Sen. Joseph Lieberman had to shh the crowd three times—not because they were cheering him, but because they were ignoring him in favor of their own conversations.
According to the New York Times:
That primary challenge comes in the unlikely form of Ned Lamont, a 52-year-old cable television entrepreneur from Greenwich, Conn., who has never held more than local office and who stepped forward only when no other Democrat in the state appeared poised to do so.
“All the political leaders in the state told him, according to Lamont, “‘Ned, if you feel so strongly about it, you do it.’”;
Although Lamont is not waging a one-issue campaign, even he acknowledges that he probably would not be running were it not to offer Connecticut voters an up-or-down referendum on the Iraq war. Lamont favors pulling U.S. troops off the front-lines of the Iraqi battlefields immediately, whereas Lieberman is perhaps President Bush’s most reliable war apologist in the Democratic Party.
As a result, Lamont’s bid to unseat Lieberman in the August Democratic primary has become perhaps the most-watched senate race in the nation. If a political neophyte with scant name recognition and little party backing can use his opposition to the war to wrest power away from a three-term senator who began the race with a 55-point lead in the polls, the upset will embolden every antiwar challenger who is eyeing a seat in the 2006 mid-term elections, or even the White House in 2008.
Despite his anti-establishment pretensions, Lamont was the fifth (yep, fifth) generation of Lamont men to attend the elite Phillips Exeter Academy and then Harvard. He went on to graduate from Yales School of Management, and soon after founded Lamont Digital, which builds cable television systems for universities and gated communities across the country.
Before throwing his hat into the ring last March, however, the only elective office he ever held was as a selectman for the town of Greenwich in the 1980s, and later on a town finance board. He ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 1990. Lamont said the desire to spend time with his wife (an investment banker) and children kept him from seeking higher office.
Starting in 1992, he began working for and holding fundraisers on behalf of a succession of presidential candidates—first Clinton in 1992, then Bill Bradley in 2000, and John Kerry during the last cycle. Post-2004 disillusionment with the lack of fresh ideas in the Democratic Party led him to seek out a more intimate form of public serviceteaching high school courses on entrepreneurship in the low-income city of Bridgeport—in addition to getting involved with policy debates at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank in Washington.
Though observers of Connecticut politics are still calling Lamonts candidacy a long-shot, Lieberman is taking the challenge seriously—hiring top-gun media consultant Carter Eskew to shake up his campaign; spending money on TV spots for the first time in a decade; and saying publicly that he would consider running as an independent if he lost the Democratic primary.
Indeed, in the progressive blogosphere, disgust with Lieberman for his perceived role as a lapdog for the Bush administration is rife, whereas Lamont is often portrayed as the best thing to hit the Democratic Party since Barack Obama (who is supporting Lieberman, incidentally). In addition to Lamonts opposition to the war, his support of progressive bread-and-butter issues like gay marriage rights, universal healthcare, a progressive tax code and energy independence have quickly endeared him to many of the kinds of so-called netroots organizers who helped propel Howard Deanג‘s 2004 presidential bid. According to his latest fundraising filing, Lamont has collected $341,111 from 4,337 donors, more than 90% giving through the Internet. He added $371,500 of his own money to that kitty. Of course, Lieberman has almost $5 million in his campaign account.
Lamont has until May to gather 15,000 petition signatures or 15% of the states voting delegates to qualify as a candidate. The formal primary will be held in August.
Truthdig managing editor Blair Golson caught up with Lamont in Los Angeles at the Brentwood home of legendary television producer Norman Lear, where Lear and Internet icon Arianna Huffington were hosting a party to celebrate the book “Crashing the Gate by Markos Moulitsas ZҔniga of DailyKos.com and Jerome Armstrong of MyDD.com. When Lamont was introduced as Liebermans challenger, more than one person in the room shouted obscenities at the mention of the senatorڒ‘s name.
Lamont later called Truthdig to talk about his insurgent campaign; about what would have kept him out of the race; and how the law of supply and demand has informed his stance on Americas war on drugs.
Blair Golson: How do you reconcile your relative lack of political experience with your ambition to be a U.S. senator?
Ned Lamont: The Senate should not be a sinecure for career politicians. Somebody who started up a business from scratch and someone who knows how hard it is to be a small businessman in this country, who works with employees over a period of years and knows the trials and tribulations of families, and how healthcare and pensions weigh on them—those are important experiences that are underrepresented in Congress. We have plenty of former attorneys general.
The excitement around your candidacy has been fueled in large part by bloggers, much the same way as was Howard Dean’s presidential run. How has that dynamic affected your efforts?
Im very appreciative of the blogs. IҒ‘m coming at this race as a bit of an outsider, with not high name recognition, and who cares passionately about the issues, but when I talk to the mainstream media, its all about process and money and delegates. It was the blogs who said, “Hey, there are compelling issues out there, and lets see how Lamont stands.Ғ” Whatever the blogs reputation, they opened the door to more serious discourse than the mainstream media did.
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