Sen. Joe Lieberman sat between his Democratic and Republican rivals in Monday’s final Connecticut Senate debate — and got it from both sides as well as from hecklers.
The three-term senator, who has a 17-point lead in the latest statewide poll, struck back at Democratic challenger Ned Lamont, who has assailed him as a career politician desperate to hang onto his seat and one beholden to powerful Washington special interests.
“You constantly distort and, frankly, just tell lies,” Lieberman, who ran as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Lamont, said at the Garde Arts Center New London. “No matter how many millions of his own family’s money Ned Lamont spends, the polls show the people of Connecticut are not buying it. They can’t be bought.”
Lamont, a wealthy cable TV executive who has poured $12.7 million of his own fortune into his campaign, bristled.
“Senator Lieberman just called me a liar and he made a lot of outrageous accusations,” Lamont replied. “Senator, everything we’re talking about is your record, and you can’t run from your record.”
Iraq support questioned
Hecklers interrupted the debate at times, and some chanted “Lieberman Protects Cheney.” They were escorted from the theater.
An exasperated Lieberman, a particular target for outbursts from the audience, scolded the hecklers. “C’mon,” he said, “let’s let the candidates talk.”
Lieberman’s support for the war in Iraq drew criticism from Lamont and Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger.
“Joe Lieberman and George Bush’s stay-the-course strategy, that’s the recipe for failure,” Lamont said.
Lieberman warned that Lamont’s support for a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawals would be disastrous.
“Your answer is to give up on Iraq,” Lieberman said. “Your plan is a recipe for retreat and disaster.”
Lamont’s primary upset of Lieberman last August was fueled primarily by his strong anti-war views. Lieberman reiterated Monday night that if re-elected he would still caucus with the Democrats.
“Not only am I a man of my word, it’s what I want to do,” Lieberman said.
'Masquerading as a Republican'
Schlesinger has tried to use the debates to climb out of the single digits in the polls. Lieberman and Schlesinger are vying for Republican support, so any Schlesinger gains could come at Lieberman’s expense.
Schlesinger accused Lieberman of trying to mask his liberal record to win GOP votes.
“In the spirit of Halloween, we have a U.S. senator here who’s masquerading as a Republican,” said Schlesinger, the former mayor of Derby.
Schlesinger also chided Lieberman on health care, accusing him of avoiding the truth about how the massive generation of baby boomers needing health care in coming years will overwhelm the nation’s medical system.
“For 18 years, our senator has not been straight with you,” Schlesinger said.