Will Lieberman Bolt?

Thirty-six years ago, faced with repudiation from fellow Democrats over his militant anti-Communist stand and his censure by colleagues for using campaign funds for personal bills, Sen. Thomas J. Dodd rocked Connecticut politics by abandoning the Democratic Party before its state convention and seeking a third term as an independent. With his campaign managed by lawyer son Chris Dodd, favorable articles by such conservative fans as William F. Buckley, Jr., and unusually strong performances in debates, the maverick senator appeared to have a chance of defying the odds and winning on the "Dodd Independent" line. But it was not to be: Republican Lowell Weicker won his first term in the Senate with 42% of the vote, followed by Democrat and former Americans for Democratic Action National Chairman Joseph Duffey with 34% and Dodd with 24%. (Weicker went on to become one of the most liberal and most personally unpleasant GOP senators. He was beaten in 1988, but came back to win the governorship as an independent in 1990. Duffey would become head of the U.S. Information Agency under Bill Clinton. Tom Dodd died two years later and Nutmeg State Democrats never held his renegade race against son Chris, who is today Connecticut’s senior senator).

With the close of the recent state Democratic convention and the increasing estrangement between three-term Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his party’s far-left over his pro-Iraq war stand, pundits and pols in Connecticut are beginning to wonder if the 2000 vice presidential nominee will follow in the footsteps of Tom Dodd and seek re-election as a "Lieberman Independent."

Although Lieberman recently said speculation about an independent candidacy was "greatly overblown," the senator has never ruled it out and has publicly discussed the possibility of such a bid. Guessing that he would bolt the Democratic Party came after the state party convention May 20, when Lieberman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 17%) was challenged for renomination by cable television tycoon Ned Lamont, great-grandson of J.P. Morgan and Company Chairman Thomas Lamont (who helped negotiate the Treaty of Versailles after World War I). Running almost exclusively as an opponent of Lieberman’s all-out support of the Bush Administration’s position on Iraq, the 52-year-old Lamont raised more than $344,000 in six weeks and spent another $371,500 of his own money. Under party rules, a candidate has to get 15% of the convention to force a statewide primary against the endorsed candidate. Lamont got a whopping 33% of the 1,608 delegates and, with major momentum, will now take his case against Lieberman to Connecticut Democrats in the August 8 primary.

Thus, there is more betting on Lieberman’s deciding to switch rather than fight in the primary. Getting on the fall ballot as an independent is not as difficult in Connecticut as in many other states. Lieberaman would only have to file 7,500 signatures by one day after the primary — which means he would have to make a decision and begin circulating petitions for an independent race while still campaigning as a Democrat.

Sensing a schism in Democratic ranks, Connecticut Republicans appear to be showing a political pulse. Their likely nominee, former Derby Mayor Alan Schlesinger, was in Washington last week to meet national party leaders.