BRIDGEPORT — Ned Lamont conceded defeat tonight in the Democratic primary for governor, congratulating Dan Malloy and calling for party unity to give Democratis their first gubernatorial victory in 24 years.

“We’re going to do everything we can to unite behind the Democratic ticket going forward to win in November,” Lamont said, standing on stage with his running mate, Mary Glassman, and their families. Glassman conceded to Malloy’s running mate, Nancy Wyman.

Malloy won a come-from-behind victory over Lamont, a millionaire businessman who largely funded his own campaign.

Lamont started the race with a comfortable lead in the polls, largely on the strength of his campaign against Sen. Joe Lieberman four years ago, but saw it erode as Malloy got public funding for his campaign and the two engaged in a battle of negative ads.

Earlier in the day, the two scavenged for votes amidst a sparse turnout.

The biggest challenge today for Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy wasn’t winning over voters. It was finding them.

The Democratic candidates for governor ventured far from polling places in search of support. Malloy marched with picketers outside a Hartford nursing home. Lamont found more potential votes at Stew Leonard’s.

“Where are the voters, Gary?” Lamont asked a supporter, Gary Collins, outside the polling place at St. John’s Church in West Hartford, a suburb that produced more Democratic votes in 2006 than anyplace but New Haven and Stamford.

Malloy picket line

Malloy on the picket in Hartford today. (Mark Pazniokas)

At 4 p.m., the secretary of the state’s office estimated the turnout so far was 15 percent.

“It’s a strange election – low turnout,” Malloy said, noting that there is no dramatic issue such as the antiwar sentiment that generated a record 43 percent turnout in 2006 for Democratic Senate and gubernatorial primaries.

In Rocky Hill, Malloy and Lamont each stopped by the West Hill School, missing each other by a half hour.

Carol DeBear, the Rocky Hill Democratic town chairwoman, arrived at West Hill School, the district 1 polling place, at 6 am. Turnout was light, she said around 1:45 pm, even lighter than she expected.

Many people were disgusted by the negative of the campaign in the closing weeks, she said, and many swore they would not vote because of it. But some of those people eventually showed up to vote anyway, she said.

“It’s a shame to have to see it that way,” she said, sporting a bit of a sunburn.

DeBear wore a Ned Lamont sticker. Malloy stood a few feet away, greeting the voters who trickled by.

“I’m from the union so I’m for you,” one woman told him as she passed.

Malloy said he felt good about his chances today.

He said his election-day strategy – voting at 6:15 a.m., then spending the day meeting voters, trying to get people out to vote, and taking advantage of free media coverage of his last-minute campaigning – could make a difference.

“On a really slow, hot day in August, maybe it makes all the difference in the world,” he said.

Several voters leaving the Rocky Hill school offered assurances that he was their pick. A New York televison news crew stopped by to interview him. Malloy jokingly wondered if they were lost before proclaiming that despite being vastly outspent, he would win.

Lamont in West Hartford

No voters, so Ned Lamont talks to supporters in West Hartford. (Mark Pazniokas)

Malloy’s union support was one reason his schedule included 20 minutes on the picket line with SEIU members outside Park Place Health Center, where his presence was worked into a chant: “Dan Malloy’s a warrior.”

“My mother organized a nursing home,” Malloy said. His mother was a public health nurse in Stamford, the city he governed as mayor for 14 years.

Shortly after 2 p.m., Malloy stood on the corner of a busy intersection on Main Street in East Hartford, waving to motorists as they drove by.

Berent LaBrecque, 17, of Cheshire, stood next to the candidate, pointing his way as drivers passed. LaBrecque and several other members of the Young Democrats club at Cheshire High School had made the trip to hold signs on street corners for their candidate, hoping to sway their elders’ votes.

LaBrecque said he liked Malloy’s experience as mayor of Stamford, which he said was more relevant than Lamont’s experience in business.

“The governor of the state of Connecticut should have some experience governing,” LaBrecque said.

LaBrecque said he hadn’t yet decided whether he would campaign for Lamont if Malloy lost the primary election.

“I’m hoping that I don’t need to cross that bridge,” he said.

Outside the Hartford Seminary in the city’s West End, Lamont was scolded by one voter.

“I would’ve voted for you, except I heard your negative ads,” Elliott Tertes told him.

“What about the other guy?” Lamont asked. Malloy aired the first commercial critical of Lamont.

Lamont told Tertes he pulled down the negative pieces.

“We’re ending on a postive note,” Lamont said.

Tertes just shook his head.

Despite the negative ads, Lamont predicted that the Democratic Party quickly will unite behind the winner of today’s primary, an assertion backed by polling.

“We get back together,” said Lamont, who says he and Malloy were friends before the campaign and will be again. “I think people are ready to give a Democrat a try.”

One politician whose relationship with the party has been rocky cared enough to vote in the primary: Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who won as an independent in 2006 after Lamont beat him in a Democratic primary. Lieberman is a self-described “independent Democrat,” but he remains a registered Democratic voter in Stamford.

Lamont spotted him leaving his polling place. He yelled from his car.

“I said, ‘It’s your old friend, Ned,’ ” Lamont said.

He was unsure if Lieberman heard him.

Lamont skipped a late-afternoon campaign stop in New Haven to detour to Norwalk for the wake of a union leader and supporter, Brian Petronella, who died of a heart attack Friday.

Petronella, 54, was president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has 10,000 members.

By 6 p.m., Lamont was in Bridgeport, stopping at two two polling places. His last stop was Central High School, where he once taught classes as a volunteer. The school’s cavernous gym was empty, save for poll workers who sat fanning themselves in the muggy air.

Lamont greeted the trickle of voters who arrived after work. With no other voters in sight, he told his oldest daughter, Emily, he was going to go for a walk.

“I’m going to think about my speech for a while,” Lamont said.

As he headed away from the school, he stopped and smiled at two young women volunteering for Malloy and preached party unity.

“Don’t worry,” he told them. “We’ll all be together in 24 hours.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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