Lamont announces for governor, pitching himself as an outsider

With a nod to his insurgent 2006 U.S. Senate campaign, Ned Lamont kicked off his race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination today by pitching himself as an outsider, but one focused on creating jobs in Connecticut and not ending a war in Iraq.

“We stood up to the political establishment,” Lamont said of his challenge to U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. “We stood up to the political wisdom and we made a difference. I’m here to ask you Connecticut to stand up again.”

Lamont made his formal announcement at the Old State House in Hartford, the same venue for the launch of the Senate race four years ago that turned him into a national political celebrity. Lamont won the Democratic primary, then lost the general election to an independent Lieberman.

His challenge this year is different. He is running for an open seat, trying to inspire the left while convincing independents that his business background as the founder of a Greenwich cable-television company makes him the right man to restart Connecticut’s economy.

“We have a crisis of confidence,” Lamont said. “I need you to stand up to those pessimists that think Connectcut’s best days are behind us. They are wrong.”

Lamont put himself in the camp of those who believe that a structural change is needed at the State Capitol, where the next governor is expected to inherit a deficit of at least $3 billion next January.

“I also need you to stand up to those who say, ‘Oh, We’ll skate through this economic recession and then we’ll be back to business as usual,’ and they are wrong,” he said.

As is the case with the other candidates, Lamont offered generalities about what is first budget might look like.

“All right, let’s cut to the chase. Yes, we have a spending problem in this state, and I will do everything I can to bring down the high cost of government,” he said.

“We do have a revenue problem, but it’s a revenue problem that’s not going to be solved with more taxes,” he said. “It’s a revenue problem that is going to be solved with more taxpayers.”

His audience included some volunteers from 2006, but few of the bloggers who helped energize his campaign against Lieberman. Edward Anderson, a blogger who haunted Lieberman four years ago, dropped by Lamont’s announcement, but he said he was focusing on the race for Christopher J. Dodd’s U.S. Senate seat.

Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, was one of the speakers who introduced Lamont, saying he was looking for “someone who can address the worst economic crisis that Connecticut’s had in the lifetime of anyone here.”

“As governor, Ned, you will become Connecticut’s first and greatest economic development officer,” Meyer said.

Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, also has endorsed him. Peter G. Kelley, a former Democratic national finance chairman who sat in the front row, said he also was backing Lamont.

John Olsen, the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO and a former Democratic state chairman, was in the audience, but he called himself uncommitted.

“Clearly, Ned is a guy who is going to get serious consideration,” he said.

In remarks to reporters, Lamont said his focus was on creating jobs and cutting spending, but he did not rule out raising taxes as a last resort.

“No, I’m not a read my lips kind of guy,” he said.

Lamont confirmed what has been clear for weeks: he will not seek public financing under the Citizens’ Election Program, a voluntary system that offers $1.25 million for a primary and $3 million for a general campaign to qualified candidates who abide by spending limits. A federal judge has declared the system unconstitutional, but legislators are trying to salvage it.

The early Republican frontrunner, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, also is privately financing his campaign and is already on the air with the first television commercials of the campaign.

“I’m going to go out there to win. I’ll be opting out of the public financing. The stakes are just too high,” Lamont said.

Lamont largely self-funded his campaign for Senate, contributing $17 million.

His chief rival for the Democratic nomination, former Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy, took a shot at Lamont’s decision to self-finance.

“Ned seems to think his millions of dollars and his background as a cable executive are why Democrats should choose him over me. I think he’s wrong. I think Democrats want a nominee who has the right kind of experience for the job,” Malloy said.

Lamont’s announcement came one day after his campaign manager, Joe Abbey, engaged in a heated exchange with Roy Occhiogrosso, the strategist for Malloy.

Malloy tried to steal a bit of Lamont’s thunder by announcing endorsements from east-of-the-river office holders, including state Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who explored a gubernatorial campaign for months.

Abbey had dismissed the endorsements and said voters wanted candidates “who won’t participate in the same old political deals motivated by selfish political ambition that they’ve seen become commonplace in both Washington and Hartford.”

Today, Abbey tried to lower the temperature, saying he probably could have chosen his words better.

Lamont said that is not the tone he wants.

“There have been campaign managers who have been taking potshots at us. And I don’t want my guys taking potshots back. Nobody needs that,” Lamont said. “My message is what you heard today. So I tell both sides, tone it down. Just make sure it’s both sides.”