Reports of Joe Lieberman’s political death are (as Mark Twain once said of rumors of his own demise) "premature and grossly exaggerated." Lieberman has lost a battle, but he can still win the war running as an independent.
While Ned Lamont will clearly have a bounce after yesterday’s primary victory, the Rasmussen Poll of July 20 showed Lieberman and Lamont tied at 40% each in the general election (with scandal-plagued GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger at 13%).
Those who would consign Lieberman to the dustbin of history need to realize that the Democratic primary in Connecticut is an affair that could be conducted in a good-sized phone booth. About 140,000 people voted for Lamont. But the state saw 1,575,000 votes cast in the general election of 2004. Assume a lower turnout in 2006 (an off year), say 1 million votes, that still leaves 860,000 that can vote for Lieberman.
The Connecticut incumbent can, of course, count on the roughly 130,000 who backed him yesterday (aside from a few party regulars who might find it necessary to fall into line and endorse the nominee).
Then, with the Republican plagued by reports of huge gambling debts, Lieberman will strongly attract independent and GOP voters, plus moderate Democrats who weren’t energized enough by the Lamont challenge to vote in the primaries.
In the general election, Lieberman can paint Lamont (a former client of mine) as the rich, light-weight dilettante he is (heir to the fortune of J.P. Morgan’s partner) and can focus on the broad range of his legislative agenda. After all, Lieberman has taken the lead on issues ranging from campaign-finance reform to tobacco regulation to corporate-governance reform to tough action against terrorism to the battle against global warming. He’ll look better and better, while Lamont will look like a one-issue challenger who is out of his league.
Freed of the confines of the Democratic primary, Lieberman can now appeal to independents, Republicans and mainstream Democrats who were not sufficiently motivated to participate in the primary, he can win.
In the meantime, Lieberman’s primary defeat sends a message to all presidential contenders, particularly Sen. Hillary Clinton, that they have to move to the left on the war or be buried by the party’s increasingly radical and leftist base. Al Gore is emerging as the one for her to worry about in 2008. Anti-war from the start, riding the global warming issue and a proven popular-vote winner, Gore will be increasingly attractive to the same left-wing voters who nominated Lamont in Connecticut. Hillary’s convoluted flip-flops on the war won’t play well in the primaries.