Conn. Liberals Lose Faith in Lieberman

Left-wing blogs ranging from the Daily Kos to MyLeftNutmeg are clamoring to see Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, frequently derided as President Bush’s favorite Democrat, out of the Senate and maybe out of their party.

They could get the latter if Lieberman loses the state’s August Democratic primary to millionaire businessman Ned Lamont. Lamont is running a largely self-financed campaign against the state’s three-term junior senator, campaigning against Lieberman’s support of the war in Iraq. This is a state where a majority of voters, and an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters, oppose the war.

“It’s a sad, pathetic sight seeing Lieberman scramble for respect despite his long years of incumbency against what should’ve been a quixotic challenge,” proclaimed the Daily Kos, referring to a statewide Democratic Party gathering where Lieberman was booed as he got up to speak.

This has all apparently struck a nerve with Lieberman. The senator seemed to acknowledge his opponent has a chance by saying on several occasions he’ll consider running as an independent if Lamont wins the party’s nomination in August.

“I have not foreclosed the option," Lieberman said of running as a third-party candidate. "If I wanted to run as an independent, I would. I’m running as a Democrat. I’ve been a Democrat all my life."

But more kind words for Lieberman come from Sean Hannity these days than Democrats. Lieberman is hardly a Zell Miller Democrat. He supports virtually every environmental regulation, opposes a ban on partial-birth abortion and even voted against Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the war has become the litmus test for the American left.

Lieberman will almost certainly win the party’s endorsement at the Connecticut Democratic Party Convention on May 20, which is controlled by the state party establishment. But at least six Democratic town committees have elected a majority of their delegates in favor of Lamont, impressive against an incumbent who was once the Democratic nominee for vice president. The convention endorsement is not binding. The nominee is chosen in the August primary.

To be sure, Lieberman holds a 4-to-1 advantage over Lamont in fundraising, not to mention a 59% approval rating. But it’s the core Democratic activist, types motivated by the blogosphere, who could dominate a primary.

That’s a problem for Lieberman who has a higher approval rating among Republicans than Democrats, according to the Quinnipiac University Poll in May. The poll also said Lieberman would win 56% of the vote running as an independent in a three-way race.

Foes from all sides are eager to seize on his potential break with the Democratic Party.     “This paints him as a self-centered career politician," said Tom Swan, Lamont’s campaign manager. “If by chance we lose, and I don’t think we will, Ned will endorse the winner of the primary on August 8. For him to say if I don’t win I’m going to pick up my marbles and go home proves what many of us believe about why Sen. Lieberman should be replaced.”

The likely Republican nominee for the seat is Alan Schlesinger, a former state representative who said this election could be similar to the 1970 Senate race in Connecticut. That’s when Sen. Thomas Dodd, father of the current senior Sen. Christopher Dodd, lost the party’s nomination, only to run as an independent candidate. One-term Republican U.S. Rep. Lowell Weicker beat Dodd and Democratic candidate Joe Duffy that year to win. Even that is almost an admission that Schlesinger views his only shot at victory is if Lieberman loses the nomination, which is probably true.

By the way Weicker, who left the Republican Party in 1990 to be elected as an independent governor, endorsed Lamont but said he would run as an independent candidate if Lieberman wins the Democratic nomination and if the Republican candidate won’t oppose the war.