With the nation watching, Connecticut Democrats thronged to the polls in unexpectedly high numbers Tuesday to reject Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and endorse his anti-war challenger, Ned Lamont.
Lamont, a first-time candidate for statewide office, defeated a three-term incumbent who had come to be defined by his defense of the war in Iraq, despite a late advertising blitz begging voters to judge him on a progressive labor and environmental record.
Lieberman, 64, his party's 2000 vice presidential nominee and a presidential hopeful only two years ago, conceded at 11:03 p.m. in a Hartford ballroom packed with national and international press. He then defiantly announced he would press on as a petitioning candidate, forcing a three-way race in November.
``As I see it in this campaign, we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November,'' Lieberman said. Then he shouted, ``Will you join me?''
At 11 a.m. today, the statewide Democratic ticket is to gather with Lamont at party headquarters in Hartford in a show of unity and effectively answer, ``No.''
``This was an election by over 250,000 Democrats. This wasn't a backroom deal,'' said Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman. ``This was an exciting election. The Democratic Party has spoken.''
Statewide turnout was estimated at more than 40 percent, 15 percentage points higher than the last major statewide Democratic primary, a gubernatorial contest in 1994.
Lamont, 52, a wealthy Greenwich cable-television entrepreneur who became the unlikely champion of a potent anti-war movement, celebrated in a Meriden hotel filled with supporters who ran the gamut from a former state party chairman to national civil rights leaders to a new brand of activist: Internet bloggers.
``They call Connecticut the land of steady habits,'' a smiling Lamont told his supporters. ``Tonight we voted for a big change.''
Lamont called his victory the product of a coalition for change that would spread beyond the borders of a small New England state.
``It's time we fixed George Bush's failed foreign policy,'' Lamont said, setting off a roaring round of cheers.
A Democratic establishment that had closed ranks around Lieberman -- in Connecticut and in Washington, D.C. -- is expected to quickly shift allegiances to Lamont and tap into his energized base of support.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who campaigned for Lieberman, called after Lieberman's concession to offer her support, Lamont campaign manager Tom Swan said. In Connecticut, Diane Farrell, the Democrat trying to use the war to unseat U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-4th District, quickly issued a public statement praising Lamont's upset. Until Tuesday night, she had been with Lieberman.
U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, issued a statement supporting Lieberman's decision to run a three-way race, though he stopped short of endorsing the Democrat over the Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger.
Some voters came to the polls with a passion, certain for months they would stand by Lieberman or reject him over the war. Others struggled and only decided in the booth, uneasy over rejecting a man who held statewide office for 26 years.
Sam Goldenberg gave his mother, Minnie Goldenberg, a ride to the polls in the West Hartford so she could cast her usual vote for Lieberman. Then he drove home to West Haven and canceled his mother's choice with a vote for Lamont.
``The war is the main issue,'' he said, almost sadly. ``Actually, Lieberman is a pretty good guy, but the war is simply the most important issue.''
Lamont rolled up lopsided margins in the Farmington Valley, Litchfield County, the lower Connecticut River Valley and scattered suburbs around the state. He won Hartford and Lieberman's hometown of New Haven, which first elected Lieberman to the state Senate in 1970.
Lieberman dominated in the New Haven suburbs, the struggling rural towns of eastern Connecticut and old mill towns of the Naugatuck Valley, home of conservative Reagan Democrats and the place he chose to begin his campaign bus tour 10 days ago. He also took Bridgeport.
2006 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY