With Lieberman's Exit, Can Republicans Win Connecticut?


Less than 24 hours after North Dakota’s Democratic  Sen. Kent Conrad announced he was not running again in 2012, all signs point to Connecticut’s Sen. Joe Lieberman—who won his last term as an Independent but votes with Democrats to organize the Senate—doing the same.  Throughout the evening, national press outlets grew more confident that the four-term senator and 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate would call it quits tomorrow.

Only four days ago, during the Republican National Committee meeting in Maryland that elected Reince Priebus national chairman, I spoke at length about just this scenario with Connecticut’s State GOP Chairman Chris Healy.

“In contrast to ’06, Joe Lieberman has no place to go this time,” Healy told me, “If he runs as a Democrat, he’s going to get some strong competition from the left—say, from [former Secretary of State] Susan Bysiewicz or either of two Democratic House Members, Chris Murphy [5th District] or Joe Courtney [2nd District].”  (Six years ago, Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to anti-Iraq War candidate and cable TV magnate Ned Lamont, only to then run as an independent and defeat both Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger).

As for the 70-year-old Lieberman repeating his independent triumph of ’06, Healy shook his head vigorously.  In his words, “That only worked because we had an underfunded nominee and so it was easy for Republicans, in and out of Connecticut, to contribute to Joe.  [At least three prominent California conservative GOPers sent maximum donations to Lieberman based on his support for U.S. action in Iraq—GOP National Committeeman Shawn Steel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and 1992 GOP U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Herschensohn]. 

Healy promised “we will be running a strong and well-funded candidate next time—you can go to the bank on it!”

As to my query about Lieberman running as a Republican, Healy dismissed this as “fantasy” and noted that in spite of occasional maverick signs such as his opposition to public option or support for McCain, “our senior senator [lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 16.15%] pretty much votes the Obama line—health care, stimulus money, bailouts, you name it.” 

Healy appears to have been a prophet.  As speculation mounts that Lieberman will exit, all political eyes in the Nutmeg State focus on Bysiewicz and three term Rep. Murphy as Democratic hopefuls. For calling Democrat Dan Malloy the winner of the disputed Connecticut race for governor last year before all votes were counted, Bysiewicz is regarded by state Republicans in much the same way Florida Democrats regarded that state’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris during the dispute over her state’s electoral votes in 2000.  Bysiewicz also suffered a political black eye in 2010 when the state supreme court ruled she could not run for attorney general because she was not actively practicing law.

Murphy (lifetime ACU rating: 1.33%), in vitriolic terms, opposed the compromise that extended the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts that President Obama accepted and both Connecticut Democratic senators supported.

As for Republicans, much of the early talk centers on world wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon, who waged a strong but losing race (using nearly all her own resources for funding) for the Senate last year, but still lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal.  Despite widespread media criticism, McMahon won high marks as a campaigner and debater and is by far the best known contender.  Businessman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, finally counted out for governor in that disputed race, could also rebound and run for the Senate.

About the only sure thing one can say about the new picture of the Connecticut Senate race is that Republicans will have a well-known and well-funded candidate—and that is a very changed picture from that of six years ago when Joe Lieberman won his last term.