California and National Elections

Lieberman Victory Worries Some Dems

BERKELEY – U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who couldn’t win his own party’s primary, will likely cruise to an easy victory as an independent in his re-election bid today, according to the most recent polls.

Pundits and papers have had no shortage of “risen from the ashes” metaphors to describe the veteran senator’s apparent return to political prominence. But some experts say a Lieberman victory is not all that surprising. What might be less clear is the impact the rebuffed politician’s maintenance of power will have on the Democratic Party.

“I think a general election victory will embolden him…to be an even more independent voice in the Democratic Party,” said Ken Dautrich, a pollster and public policy professor at the University of Connecticut. “There have been key, very visible issues where he has broken with the Democratic party.”

Lieberman decided to run as an independent almost immediately after losing his party’s primary to Ned Lamont in August. In that contest, Lieberman received 48 percent of the vote compared to Lamont’s 52 percent. That contest was seen by many as the party’s referendum on Lieberman, who has broken with the Democrats on a number of high-profile issues.

He was the first Democrat to publicly blast former President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. More recently Lieberman helped block a filibuster of the nomination of Supreme Court Justice and President George W. Bush-appointee Samuel Alito.

And then there’s the Iraq war.

Lieberman has been a consistent ally of Bush’s handling of Iraq, angering many Democrats. Lamont was able to defeat Lieberman in the primary by running a campaign focused mainly on the war and highlighting the veteran senator’s close ties to Bush. That strategy does not appear to be working this time around.

“The issue of the war -- mainly Lieberman’s support -- seems to be much less of a problem in a general election,” Dautrich said. “I don’t think the war is as important to independents and Republicans as it (is) to Democrats.”

People outside the state often falsely assume Connecticut is a Democratic state, he added. Of registered voters, about 34 percent are Democrats, 22 percent are Republicans and 44 percent are independent, according to information from the secretary of state.

Many of those independents are more comfortable voting for the independent-minded, 18-year veteran than the left-leaning Lamont, Dautrich said. Lamont, a cable television entrepreneur, was a political unknown before running for senate. His only real experience was in local government.

As for the Republicans, their party’s candidate, Alan Schlesinger, has been a disaster. Over the summer it was revealed Schlesinger paid thousands of dollars in the early 1990s to settle lawsuits on unpaid gambling debts.

The most recent poll from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., showed Schlesinger with only 8 percent of the vote as compared to Lamont’s 38 percent and Lieberman’s 50 percent.

While the race is a lock for the Democrats, since Lieberman has said he will not change parties, people as far away as California are watching the race closely. Local Democrat, Carole Mills, sees a Lieberman victory as a major concern for the party.

The veteran senator will cast votes to help himself grab power and key chairmanship positions as opposed to voting in the party’s best interest, said Mills, director of the United Democratic Campaign for Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville. She worried he would vote against Democrats to repay the Republican party’s support for his re-election bid.

“Joe Lieberman is interested in Joe Lieberman first and foremost,” Mills said. “We want the war in Iraq to end. If the Democrats don’t take back the House, I have not a moment’s doubt Lieberman will continue to go along with the President’s policy.”