Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Connecticut U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

August 8, 2006
91 Days Until Election Day

Connecticut U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

It just so happens that my alphabetical journey through the states brings us to the U.S. Senate contest in Connecticut on the day that just so happens to be the one where the entire political world will be focused on this contest.

We will of course know a lot more about how things will be shaping up in this race after tonight and in the next few days, but rarely has a Senate primary received so much national attention and rarely will a general election, in which one of the two major parties is seemingly out of contention likely also receive as much scrutiny.

Things have really changed within his party for Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman as he seeks reelection to a fourth term. The man who had been Al Gore’s running mate just six years ago on the national ticket, is now nothing short of despised by liberal activists, especially those on the blogosphere for a variety of reasons, but most prominent among them is his continued support for the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. The left-wing base of the Democrat Party nationwide have gone to great lengths to try to tie Lieberman to President Bush, and the once immensely popular Senator is now a considerable underdog to officially win his party’s nomination tonight.

The man who would defeat Lieberman is wealthy businessman Ned Lamont, who has poured a great deal of his personal fortune into the primary challenge and who has campaigned hard at Lieberman from the left. Lamont’s candidacy has become a something of a national crusade among the Democrat “netroots” with prominent blogs like Daily Kos, leading the charge to defeat the Senator, who parts ways with his party on occasion. To those opponents, Lieberman’s positions, especially on national security, do great harm to Democrats and give “aid and comfort” to the President and conservative Republicans. A friendly kiss on the cheek that President Bush gave to Lieberman after a State of the Union Address has become the symbol of what has those liberal activists so agitated about Lieberman and has been a major focus of their campaign against him.

For Lieberman’s part, the man who at one point of time in the last Presidential election, was polling ahead of every other Democrat candidate for that office, has been caught somewhat flat-footed and there is much talk that the campaign of “Joementum” has been missing a lot of spark. The first warning signs that he was really in danger came when he won the official endorsement of the state party at a convention, but by a smaller margin than many expected. Since then, nothing has seemed to turn the race around against Lamont, as Lieberman has sunk further and further in the polls. Not a highly discussed debate, not a high-profile endorsement visit from former President Clinton, and not the support of several nationally prominent Democrats. All the while, other Democrats, such as John Kerry, and the man who picked Lieberman to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, Al Gore, have even refused to endorse Lieberman’s nomination.

There has already been and will continue to be much discussion about what will happen if Lamont beats Lieberman and the symbolism and implications it might have for Democrats nationally in 2006 and in future elections. Prominent liberal publisher Martin Peretz penned a piece this week that said a Lieberman loss would represent a purging of a certain kind of Democrat from the party and that it would be extremely beneficial to Karl Rove and Republicans. Peretz went on to say that Democrats would “deservedly” lose the support of many Americans. Others, like Reverend Jesse Jackson have said that while they like and respect Lieberman, his loss would be good news for Democrats and the “progressive movement.”

The latest Quinnipiac University poll out of Connecticut has Lamont leading 51-45 going into the primary election. While those numbers are poor for Lieberman, it does represent a deficit at least half the size of what polls released in the days prior had said. It will remain to be seen whether the polls are wrong, or if there is indeed a phenomenon of voters ending their flirtation with Lamont and heading back to the candidate they have known and supported for so long, but the general conventional wisdom still is that Lamont is expected to win the primary tonight and will probably do so convincingly.

However, in what makes this race all the more interesting, a loss tonight would not necessarily end the political career of Joe Lieberman. Several weeks back, he took the step, which he clearly realized would hurt his chances to win the primary, of announcing efforts to petition to make the November ballot if he loses the primary, with the intent of continuing to serve as a Democrat on Capitol Hill. Most poll shave shown that Lieberman would easily win a general election running as an Independent, although the latest Rasmussen poll showed that he would be tied with Lamont at 40 percent a piece, with the overlooked Republican candidate running far behind.

While Lieberman insists that he will continue his campaign, and may even be resigned to that route, as evidenced by his campaign’s decision to cut back on getting out the vote efforts today, there is now starting to be a great deal of pressure brought to bear upon Lieberman to accept the judgment of his party’s voters and step aside if he loses, especially if the margin is in the double digits. That pressure will only increase tomorrow if Lieberman is unsuccessful today and it might very well be that Lieberman decides to not sully his entire reputation and legacy within the party by taking on a divisive tactic. Still, other Democrats would want him to fight on and Lieberman himself has said that his defeat would be seen as a sign that pro-national security Democrats are not as welcomed in the party. Thus, he may feel he is doing the right thing for his party by taking on a race as an Independent that he would have a good chance of winning.

It is worth noting that there will apparently be a Republican candidate in the fall election, one Alan Schlesinger, a former State Representative and Mayor of Derby. The under funded and little known Republican would always have had a tough go of it running for statewide federal office in a state as Democrat leaning as Connecticut, but Schlesinger’s campaign is even more trouble after revelations regarding his fondness for casino gambling. Republican insiders have called for him to drop out of the race. Some of those folks want to see Schlesinger replaced by a more formidable Republican, such as wealthy businessman Jack Orchulli, who lost a U.S. Senate race two years ago as the GOP nominee by a wide margin, but would indeed have a lot of money to pour into this contest and is apparently willing to do so. There simply does not appear to be any other Republican in the state who would be available to make a credible run and hope for lighting to strike and somehow sneak into office with around a third of the total vote.

The fact that such a thing is even plausible is why this race cannot be considered “Safe Democrat.” The only scenario in which that would be the case is if Lieberman is able to win the nomination. That event would cause all the attention being paid to this race to practically disappear and the fall campaign would be very anti-climactic. If Lamont wins the primary, and Lieberman decides to not run out of a sense of party unity, Lamont would be the heavy favorite to win the seat in the fall, but without Lieberman as his foil, a lot of the passion may go out of his campaign over the final few months, a sense of buyer’s remorse might set in, and a Republican (especially if it is someone stronger than Schlesinger) might at least be able to make some noise with the support of the Independents and some Democrats who supported Lieberman and would be angered by his defeat and the end of his political career.

Otherwise, we are likely looking at a three way race, between a Republican candidate, Lamont the official Democrat, and Lieberman as an unofficial Democrat candidate. Some say that a loss by Lieberman and an insistence of continuing the campaign would hurt him in the polls and he would slip behind Lamont for the fall election. That might be the short-term result, but overall, Lieberman might be able to score some serious political points by playing himself off as a victim of a narrow-minded political party that lost its way and punished him, for standing up for his core convictions, even when it hurt him politically. Since the November electorate will be far larger and more diverse than today’s Democrat primary, Lieberman would still have to be ranked as the odds on favorite to win reelection in that situation, precisely because he is more popular among Independents and Republicans, than he now is among members of his own party.

It might very well be the case that Schlesinger is effectively persuaded to drop out and Republicans officially endorse or nominate Lieberman as their candidate. Both the national party and Lieberman himself have dismissed that idea, but nothing can be considered too crazy in a race that has already taken on so many fascinating turns. If the fall election between Lamont and Lieberman looks like it could go to the more liberal Lamont, there will be a larger influx of Republicans in the Nutmeg State willing to vote for Lieberman and whatever Republican might still be on the ballot would finish a distant third.

Some political observers believe that the presence of Lieberman on the ballot as an Independent of sorts would for a variety of reasons bolster support in the state for three Republican House members who are considered to be in competitive races. The most vulnerable of those Republican incumbents, Chris Shays, officially announced his support for Lieberman a few months back.

If Lieberman does run after losing a primary, it will really be interesting to see what Democrat politicians, in Connecticut and beyond respond as far as if they would support him, or Lamont as the party’s official nominee. Many would feel obligated and pressured by the party’s liberal base to cast Lieberman aside, while others, such as Ken Salazar of Colorado have said they will stick with Lieberman no matter what. A while back, Chuck Schumer, the DSCC Chair caused a bit of a stir when he did not rule out the party’s Senate campaign arm officially supporting Lieberman’s Independent candidacy. If any official Democrat organization goes that route, there will be massive infighting within the party between the politicians and the “netroots.”

I have this race ranked today as “Likely Democrat” as opposed to “Safe Democrat” for a few reasons; the most significant one being that that the likely Democrat winner is still Lieberman. While he has consistently maintained that he will always remain a Democrat, he may feel a lot less favorable towards that label in 2007, if he is forced to win reelection on the backs of Republicans and Independents. His overall voting record could change a little, or it could change a lot. As long though as the Democrats remain this bitterly divided, anything has to be considered possible, from party switches, to a dark horse Republican sneaking up from nowhere in a three way race. Those two scenarios are still extremely unlikely, but we have seen what a wild and unpredictable journey it has been in Connecticut up to this point. We will know more tonight and in the days ahead if the craziness will continue.

Schlesinger campaign link:


CT GOP link (because Schlesinger might be gone soon):


Lieberman campaign link which may or may not be hacked into by the “Lamontster” crowd (because he may wind up being the best available option for Republicans in November):


2006 Senate races predicted thus far: 2 D, 1 R
Predicted post-election Senate balance of power thus far: 29 D, 41 R