Democrats May Bounce Lieberman for One Issue: Iraq

Farmington, Conn.—Facing a tough challenge from anti-Iraq War candidate Ned Lamont, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) has started collecting petitions to run for re-election this fall as an independent in the event he loses the August 8 Democratic primary.

This is a wise move by Lieberman.

In the first survey conducted after the senator launched the petition drive and held his lone televised debate with Lamont, the Quinnipiac University poll showed the challenger leading Lieberman among likely Democratic voters, 51% to 47%. The previous Quinnipiac poll had showed Lieberman up 55% to 40%.

The dramatic turnabout reflects a prediction made to me over breakfast by Connecticut Republican Chairman George Gallo on the morning Lieberman announced he would seek an independent line on the ballot. “The senator is reading the tea leaves and has made it clear he wants to be on the November ballot one way or another,” said Gallo. “The moment this becomes public, it is the end of his lead in the polls among loyal Democrats.”

“If I was Joe Lieberman, I would, without a doubt, run as an independent,” Democratic State Chairman Ed Marcus, a former state senator (who was defeated in the Democratic primary by Lieberman in 1972), wrote me on June 19.

Gallo and Marcus accurately gauged the response among party liberals to Lamont’s challenge. In a campaign focused almost exclusively on Lieberman’s support of President Bush’s position on Iraq, multimillionaire cable television executive Lamont has mobilized left-wing bloggers and far-left cash cows such as and Democracy for America (headed by James Dean, brother of Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean) in a fury of volunteer activity. Candidates can qualify for a statewide primary by winning a minimum of 15% of votes at the state party convention, but Lamont stunned pundits by winning 33%.

Ironically, other than on the war, Lieberman is generally more liberal than Lamont. In fact, other than on the war, Lieberman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 17%) is almost as liberal as Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.). In his debate with Lamont, Lieberman boasted about the pork he has brought to the state and defended spending earmarks. Lamont, who voted 80% of the time with Republicans when he was on the Board of Selectmen in his hometown of Greenwich, attacked earmarks and denounced Lieberman as a big spender. Lamont has a history of contributing to centrist Democrats such as former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and, as recently as last year, Lieberman himself.

“The problem is that in a bicoastal Democratic Party, which can win big in California and New York provided they nominate someone acceptable to Barbra Streisand, there is no center allowed anymore,” said former State Democratic Chairman John Droney, who strongly advised Lieberman to go independent. “Here’s someone with a long and distinguished career, who was elected Vice President—or won the popular vote in 2000—and is unceremoniously attacked because, like Winston Churchill in the late 1930s, he has risen above party politics on one issue.”