Click the play arrow to watch the slideshow and hear Phil Sherwood of CCAG and COW talk about Sunday’s protest

Eight years ago when Arizona Senator John McCain visited Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, during his first campaign for the White House, the world was a much different place.

There was no war in Iraq and U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman was still a welcomed member of the Connecticut Democratic Party.

It was obvious from the crowds of protestors lined up outside the entrance to Sacred Heart University Sunday that the war and lawmakers who support it are still an important issue for many in the state.

George Jepsen, former Democratic State Party Chairman, said when Sen. Lieberman was running for re-election in 2006 he told us “nobody wanted the troops to come home more than he did.” Mr. Jepsen, who joined dozens of anti-war protestors along the sidewalk outside the college campus Sunday, said the voters were foolish to believe Sen. Lieberman.

He said the voters were also foolish to believe him when he said he would support a Democrat for president.

Phil Sherwood, from Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Connecticut Opposes the War, said “We’re facing a looming recession and we believe it’s the Iraq recession.” He said he finds it “unsettling” that Sen. Lieberman said during the last campaign he more than anyone wanted to end the war in Iraq and here he is supporting the biggest “pro-war” candidate.

But a group of students from Staples High School in Westport, who were holding McCain signs on the other side of the campus fence, said McCain was the only choice for president.

Eric Wessan, 15, said whether you supported the war from the start or not, “we can’t leave now without messing it up.” He said McCain is well-versed in military and foreign affairs and is the only qualified candidate to lead the country at this time. He said McCain can hire some smart people to advise him on the economy, which is the weaker of his issues when compared to his closest competitor, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Christine Stuart photo

The McCain rally was held far away from the protest, but at least one heckler was led out of the packed gymnasium by campus police. It was unclear what the heckler said but he was shouted down by the crowd yelling out “MAC is Back!” Acknowledging this happens every once in awhile McCain didn’t seem phased by the heckler, who distracted the crowd for a fleeting moment.

“I believe we face a transcendent challenge in the 21st Century, which is radical Islamic extremism,” Sen. McCain said. He said to set a date for withdrawal is to set a date for surrender… “I will never surrender,” he said to a roar of applause. However, Sen. McCain didn’t linger too long on the war. Instead the bulk of his 25-minute speech focused on economy and increased services for veterans.

He said the second most important issue after the war, is the economy. He said he wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and wants to get spending under control. He talked about getting rid of the pork barrel spending. In the last two years, the President signed into law $35 billion in pork barrel projects which would have paid for a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America, Sen. McCain said. He said he would veto any pork barrel spending if elected president.

Sen. Lieberman was in good spirits introducing Sen. McCain Sunday. As he grabbed the microphone from Congressman Chris Shays he asked if anyone noticed “we kissed each other.” Lieberman was referring the kiss he gave President George W. Bush, which was later made into an iconic float by his opponents during the 2006 campaign to show how closely aligned his ideals were with President Bush’s. Click here for CT Bob’s 59 second history lesson of ‘The Kiss’ which includes Sunday’s kiss between Sen. Lieberman and Congressman Chris Shays.

Before Sen. McCain took the stage Sunday, Sen. Lieberman said, “Party’s are important, but ultimately what’s most important is the United States of America.”

“I support Senator McCain because he has courage,” Lieberman said. “It’s the courage to do what’s right, it’s the courage to cross party lines to get things done…”

And although Sen. Lieberman, who calls himself an Independent Democrat, still caucuses with Democrats in Washington DC, he’s not welcomed by Democrats here at home.

In fact, Sen. Lieberman’s picture was recently removed from a wall at the state’s Democratic Party headquarters because he endorsed Sen. McCain’s presidential bid. In 2006, Lieberman won re-election as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont.

Click here for more coverage of Sunday’s event by the New Haven Independent.