WASHINGTON — Ned Lamont, the wealthy businessman who last month defeated incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary, came to Washington Wednesday to line up support for the general election. But he began the day at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters taking verbal shots at his opponent.
Reporters asked Mr. Lamont to weigh in on Senate Democrats' plan to call for a no-confidence vote on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. One journalist posed a hypothetical question: What if Senator Lieberman were asked to fill the post – would a future Senator Lamont vote to confirm him?
"I don't think I would. I know the man. I respect the man. He is a man of integrity. I have never spoken ill of him throughout this entire campaign, but he has been so wrong on one of the biggest issues of the day for so long. The idea that he would go take over as Secretary of defense, I just couldn't do that," Lamont replied, referring to Lieberman's strong support for the Iraq war.
"It doesn't matter if Donald Rumsfeld retires and somebody who thinks just like him goes into place ... If you are replacing Rumsfeld with Lieberman, that would be what we call in my world a lateral move," Lamont said.
When asked about Lamont's comment, a spokesperson for the Lieberman campaign e-mailed that "Joe Lieberman has repeatedly said that he is not interested in any other job other than being the senator from Connecticut. We do not understand why Ned Lamont can't take 'no' for an answer."
The tanned and youthful candidate delivered his answers in rapid-fire fashion. When asked if Sen. Hillary Clinton used a recent meeting with him to improve her image on the Iraq war, Lamont said, "Politics is fascinating. I like all my new friends and I was very impressed with Mrs. Clinton and a number of other people I have talked to." He added, "I had an awful lot of people who really didn't want to talk to me on Tuesday afternoon and they were pretty happy to talk with me on Tuesday evening."
Lamont's Washington visit included meetings with party leaders and union officials to seek their help in waging his general election campaign. The latest polls show him running behind Lieberman in the general election – the average of all polling data gives Lieberman a 5.3 percent lead at 47.3 percent, according to the website Real Clear Politics. Lamont shared his strategy for closing the poll gap: "What I have got to do is introduce Ned Lamont" to the electorate as a whole, he said.