When political newcomer Ned Lamont announced six months ago that he was challenging Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, his support came mostly from grass-roots activists, a few state politicians and some liberal Internet bloggers.

But since Aug. 8, when he defeated the 18-year incumbent by about 10,000 votes, Lamont has discovered a lot of new friends — especially those within the Democratic establishment who originally backed Lieberman.

Lamont’s phone has been ringing off the hook as politicians call, offering to campaign for the man who wrested the party nomination from a one-time vice presidential candidate by harnessing anger against the war in Iraq.

“There appear to be a lot of people that have heard that Connecticut is a nice place to be during (fall) foliage season,” joked Tom Swan, Lamont’s campaign manager.

Lamont, who now faces a three-way race against Republican Alan Schlesinger and Lieberman, now running as an independent, is being careful about choosing people to appear with on the campaign trail.

“We’re not going to let everybody who wants to come, come in, because we’ve got to continue to introduce ourselves to voters,” Swan said.

Asked how many “new friends” Lamont has turned away, Swan said with a smile: “I’m not sure we’ve said ‘no.’ It’s ‘I’ll get back to you.'”

While Lamont is the Democrats’ chosen new standard bearer, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows he is trailing Lieberman by 12 percentage points among likely voters. Much of Lieberman’s advantage comes from his popularity among Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the largest voting block in Connecticut.

“(Lamont) does need to broaden his base,” poll director Douglas Schwartz said. “His core supporters right now are liberal Democrats. That’s not enough to win a general election.”

As Lamont tries to win over a broader range of voters, he is enjoying support from some big-name members of the Democratic establishment including Sens. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

“We’re going forward united. We’re clear on the war, we’re clear on health care, we’re clear on how we’re doing business in Washington, D.C., with the lobbyists and the deficit,” Lamont said in a recent interview with The Associated Press during a visit to Washington. “We gotta be clear and bold on where we stand. I’m happy to be talking to these folks.”

The war in Iraq was the hallmark of Lamont’s primary campaign. He calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from what he often refers to as “a bloody civil war,” and says he believes that those who got America into the conflict should be held accountable.

However, he doesn’t believe politicians such as Clinton should repudiate their votes in favor of authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq. Instead, he credits them for saying that staying the course in Iraq, after more than three years, is not working.

“I think it’s a very different situation than Senator Lieberman, who challenged those that challenged the stay-the-course strategy,” Lamont said. “He’s the one who said you’re undermining the credibility of the president — very different set of circumstances.”

Lieberman, however, is now billing himself as the alternative to the establishment. He hopes to appeal to voters who are sick of partisanship and want a candidate willing to work with others to get things done.

“This is a whole new chapter and it’s all going to be about people power,” Lieberman said in a recent interview. “We’ve had a lot of calls from Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated, some elected officials, former elected officials and just a lot of regular people who say ‘We want you to keep fighting for us and delivering for us.’ I’m actually recharged by this.”


Associated Press writer Andrew Miga in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press