True Blue, Or Too Blue?

Taking it to the streets: Ned Lamont gamely tries his hand at keyboards with Bruce John and the Eagleville Band at a festival in Willimantic, Conn.; at left, his July 6 debate with Democratic Senate opponent Joe Lieberman left him bloodied but unbowed.
Taking it to the streets: Ned Lamont gamely tries his hand at keyboards with Bruce John and the Eagleville Band at a festival in Willimantic, Conn.; at left, his July 6 debate with Democratic Senate opponent Joe Lieberman left him bloodied but unbowed. (By Nick Lacy)

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By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

WILLIMANTIC, Conn.

On a low-rise stage in front of a delicatessen, a blues band is taking a moment between songs to set up a chair and keyboards. Ned Lamont takes a seat and plays a few tentative notes, as if trying to jog his memory. Dozens of gawkers press in, eating corn, drinking beer, smiling.

"We're going to do a boogie-woogie in the key of A," the guitarist and bandleader says to Lamont, off-mike. "What do you think about that?"

"How about G?" he counters.

It's not much to look at or listen to, but right now this is the best show in American politics. Or part of it, anyway. Lamont, a cable-TV executive with as much energy as disposable income, is the man currently petrifying Joe Lieberman, the three-term senator and former vice presidential candidate whose handful of GOP-friendly stands unleashed a lot of rage in the Democratic Party.

And not just regular rage. This is something broader, thanks to the Internet, and something deeper, thanks to Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq. Listen to the Joe-haters, read the pro-Lamont blogs, and you imagine a bunch of torch-bearing villagers who just got a map to the castle.

The anger has transformed Lamont from unknown rich guy into Lieberman's worst nightmare. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters for the Aug. 8 Democratic Senate primary, Lamont had pulled slightly ahead of Lieberman -- and that was before Sunday's endorsement of Lamont in the New York Times. Lieberman has said he will run as an independent if he loses next Tuesday, and in a three-way general election he remains the favorite. But nobody has any idea how voters will react if Lieberman ditches the party. Some Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton among them, have already said they'll support whoever wins the primary.

No matter what happens, the Lamont surge looks and sounds like a towel snap at the status quo. This is not merely about the war, say strategists with both camps, but the larger question of what Democrats should do to regain power -- and in the absence of power, how they should behave in opposition. Should they move to the center and accommodate the red-state voters who have sidelined them two elections in a row? Or move to the left and fight, consequences be damned?

Leftward and fight, say a bunch of highly agitated bloggers, who have been pouring their fury into cyberspace and whipping up money and crowds for Lamont. Some Lieberman supporters already predict that the sites will cow moderates in the party and shove Democrats to radical positions that up-for-grabs voters find unpalatable. If this is a trend, they say, it portends badly for Democrats across the country. And if Lieberman prevails as an independent, well, that's one less Democrat in the Senate.

What's certain is that the blogs are flexing their political muscle just as a ballooning number of voters in Connecticut have come to the conclusion that their very blue state now needs a very blue senator. If nothing else, Lamont has excellent timing.

Though not as a musician. Onstage at "Third Thursday," a street fair at this deflated former mill town in northeast Connecticut, the band and Lamont are playing "Flip, Flop and Fly," hardly the most felicitous title. Lamont hasn't performed in public since his high-school cover band in the late 1960s, but his help-me-God grin wins everyone to his side. People clap in unison and start dancing. It's like a scene in a musical.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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