Lamont gets star treatment

Ned Lamont headlined a recent fundraiser for the liberal Democracy for America. Days later, the Democratic Senate candidate was rubbing elbows with celebrities at a charity event sponsored by the liberal, and he’s been a guest on Air America, the liberal talk radio network.

Has the Greenwich businessman who defeated 18-year-veteran Sen. Joe Lieberman in this month’s Democratic primary hit rock-star status among progressive Democrats?

“He’s pretty darn close,” said Tom Hughes, executive director of Democracy for America, which helped raise more than $100,000 for Lamont during the primary.

Lamont was the top attraction at a recent fundraising event for the group, founded in 2004 by Jim Dean, brother of Howard Dean — chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Vermont governor and former presidential candidate.

“It was the talk of the political town when he was here,” Hughes said. “He is known to progressives across the country right now as somebody who just toppled a really behind-the-times entrenched incumbent. That’s a huge deal.”

Lamont, who announced his candidacy as recently as March, faces a three-way race in November against Republican Alan Schlesinger and Lieberman, now running as an independent.

Lamont’s campaign manager, Tom Swan, is quick to point out that even though his candidate has headlined a few out-of-state events, he is totally focused on Connecticut.

And Lamont himself downplays all the attention.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said, when asked if he’s become celebrity in progressive Democratic circles. He said he’s “talking to everybody I can. I’m going to small businesses and business associations, I’m talking to elderly,”

Swan acknowledges that Lamont, a cable company executive whose only political experience has been at the local level, is in demand. He said the campaign has had to decline numerous requests for Lamont to appear for groups or other candidates. The campaign has also received numerous requests from politicians wanting to appear with Lamont.

“He’s captured folks’ attention because he stands for something and what he stands for is a principled, progressive Democratic Party that will stand up and fight against the failures of the Bush Administration and that’s something that people have been calling for a while,” said Eli Pariser, executive director of

Ken Dautrich, public policy professor at the University of Connecticut, and a former pollster, said he doesn’t believe Lamont’s status among liberal Democrats will be enough to defeat Lieberman in November.

“It’s the traditional voter, the independent, which makes up a huge part of the electorate,” he said. “They’re not necessarily looking for a rock star, and that’s what he is.”

Still, Dautrich credits Lamont with energizing a segment of voters that haven’t been enthusiastic about politics for years, especially young people. He said he sees students on the University of Connecticut campus wearing Lamont campaign buttons and talking about working for the campaign.

“He’s kind of outside of the system. He’s a newcomer to politics. Lieberman is as traditional as it gets in terms of a politician,” Dautrich said. “(Lamont) is particularly appealing I think to young people who are more anti-war. He was able to unseat Lieberman and he has become almost a pop culture figure in politics.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press