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July 3, 2006
Lieberman Starts His Independent Bid (Updated)

Senator Joe Lieberman has begun his preparations for re-election as an independent, in case Ned Lamont beats him in the primary. The Hartford Courant reports that Lieberman announced his intention to collect signatures ahead of the August 8th primary, a necessary step given Connecticut's August 9th deadline for submissions:

Lieberman, 64, a three-term senator whose outspoken support of the war in Iraq has brought months of grief and inspired a strong primary challenge from Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, announced his decision this afternoon at a brief press conference at the State Capitol.

"I've been a proud, loyal and progressive Democrat since John F. Kennedy inspired my generation of Americans into public service and I will stay a Democrat, whether I am the Democraitic party's nominee or a petitioning Democratic candidate on the November ballot," Lieberman said. He added that he would, even if re-elected as a petitioning candidate, remain a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Even should he lose in August -- and the most recent public poll shows him leading Lamont by 15 percentage points among likely primary voters -- Lieberman would retain his status as a registered Democrat. His name would not, however, appear on the ballot line with other Democrats.

Lieberman began making courtesy calls to leading Democrats late this morning. Among them were Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Connecticut's Democratic state chairwoman, Nancy DiNardo.

This puts party leaders in a tight spot. They cannot appear too eager to back Lieberman's independent bid if Lamont wins the primary, as Lamont will be the selected candidate of the state's Democratic voters. Doing so would undermine the party system itself, even if Lieberman agreed to caucus with the Democrats should he win. Lieberman's tiptoe of calling himself an "independent Democrat" will not matter much to the Connecticut voters they will defy with their endorsement against their elected nominee.

The Courant reports that Lieberman leads Lamont by fifteen points at the moment. National Democratic leaders better hope he can maintain that lead through the primary and make the point moot, but that seems unlikely. His filing will get some Connecticut voters angry, especially those who believe in party first and the primary system. That may not be enough to erode a fifteen-point lead in five or six weeks, but it certainly won't help. Lieberman has to guess that those voters have probably already committed to Lamont, but that is assuredly a risk.

The Lamont Blog has a response one could not describe as measured or even accurate:

In addition, Joe has just created a world of shit for his supposed friends Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, Diane Farrell, Joe Courtney, and Chris Murphy. I wonder what they all think of this.

This is how he treats his friends. This is how he treats his party. On the slowest news day of the summer.

These are the actions of a very weak candidate, and a selfish and cowardly man.

What a sorry sight to see an 18-year incumbent senator running scared from a little primary challenge like this. No backbone. No courage. No integrity.

And not a Democrat anymore, either.

Lieberman remains a Democrat, even with the independent bid, especially since he's committed to caucusing with the Democrats if elected. While one can understand why the Lamont campaign would want to make hay of both the announcement and its timing, the assignment of cowardice seems more than just a little ironic. Lieberman hasn't pulled out of the primary, after all; he still plans on contesting it. More to the point, the entire reason for Lamont's campaign and its surprisingly large following is that Lamont wants an immediate retreat from Iraq, cutting and running rather than fight the terrorists in the one place that even Osama understands as the center stage of the war on terror. Throwing around accusations of cowardice seems a bit odd under the circumstances.

I suspect that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will have some uncomfortable moments in the next few weeks. Undoubtedly they will hope that Lieberman will win the primary and let them off the hook. They may do more than just hope, which may result in a nasty split between the hard-Left and the DLC factions, just as the midterms approach. It looks like the Democrats may well wind up with the split that appeared imminent in the GOP until a couple of weeks ago.

UPDATE: TParty from the Lamont Blog sent me a very nice e-mail politely informing me that his site is not affiliated with Lamont's campaign, so I thank him for that clarification. He also brought up another interesting point:

I wonder if, say, conservatives in Pennsylvania in 2004 would have had similar feelings about Arlen Specter running against Pat Toomey in the primary yet promising to run as an "petitioning Republican" if he lost.

Regardless of political philosophy or ideology, I think that is a pretty weasely and cowardly stance to take.

Actually, I think many of us predicted he would do just that when we debated whether George Bush should have dumped Specter for Toomey. In any event, it is a good point, although I don't think we would have termed it cowardly -- vengeful and selfish, perhaps, but not cowardly. If the GOP had some balls and endorsed Laffey over Linc Chafee in Rhode Island, we might have seen Chafee run as an independent, too.

However, I think that a rational reading of Lieberman's record shows that he votes in support of the Democratic agenda far more often than Chafee does for the Republican agenda, and perhaps more than Specter does, although that might be close. In this case, the Democrats are doing themselves no favor by pushing Lieberman under a bus on one issue, and they leave themselves open to some significant risk. However, that's precisely what primaries are for, and what makes politics so much fun.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 3, 2006 4:34 PM

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