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Posted by on Aug 7, 2006 in At TMV | 27 comments

Connecticut Primary Is D-Day For Joe Lieberman And The Democratic Party (UPDATED)

This has been reposted from yesterday at the top of this site due to interest and an update.

Tuesday is truly “D-Day� for Joe Lieberman and the Democratic Party.

For Lieberman, will it be the day Democrats defeat his re-nomination bid and send him (and others) a message that he is outside what many anti-war and anti-Bush Democrats believe is the Democratic party’s new, majority-supported mainstream? Will it be the day he must define himself as an independent who will run against his party’s nominee, perhaps causing a Republican victory or a victory where a big chunk of his November re-election votes come from Republicans rather than from Democrats?

Will it be a day when Connecticut Democrats nudged-on by national political and Internet forces define their party as one that has set a boundary on the degree of bipartisanship (which some believe is “enabling�) shown to the GOP and President George W. Bush? And will that direct the party to new electoral victories…or long-range defeat if moderates feel locked out?

A key debate surrounding Lieberman is whether “true moderates� can support him given the Bush administration’s suggestion that those who questioning and criticizing the Iraq war are in effect tolerating terrorism or don’t care about the troops in the field. Another key question if Lieberman loses will be whether American politics’ political gravity points have shifted so that old definitions of where “the center� and “moderates� need to be adjusted.

What’s clear is this: news stories and talking heads begin latching onto a conventional wisdom before elections and it is now clear that Lieberman is expected to lose. Perhaps big time. And if that happens, the framework for much of the analyses done before may be “inoperative� because some of the conventional wisdoms will fall by the wayside.

Just look at a few key developments and what they say about the conclusions politicos and political thinkers are now drawing:

–Hillary Clinton’s confrontation with Donald Rumsfeld this week is seen by some as what the New York Times calls “dodging a political bullet,â€? as she has moved to reposition herself on the war and not become Joe Lieberman The Sequel. She cannot be accused of not providing spirited oversight.

–Former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who is making all of the noises and doing all of the travels of someone who wants to run for president, has called for the United States to start pulling out of Iraq immediately.

–Bill Curry, a former counselor to President Bill Clinton, warns in a Hartford Courant piece that the Democrats could be making the mistake they made in 1968 and veering so sharply anti-war that they will lose major parts of the electorate. He writes:

Many Republicans are fleeing their party. They want a foreign policy based on mutual respect, a domestic policy based on mutual tolerance, and fiscal and environmental sanity. With nudging they might even agree to a new health care system. It’s time Democrats finished sorting out their own identity and began getting bipartisan with them. Gene McCarthy’s New Hampshire challenge might have led to a Robert Kennedy presidency, or to peace. It didn’t. It led instead into a wilderness. Ironically, another small New England primary of unexpected import may help lead us back.

–On Fox News Newt Gingrich said: “you have what I think is a legitimate insurgency in Connecticut, which needs to be met head on,â€? made up of people who say Iraq “is so hard, it is so frightening, it’s so painful, can’t we come home and hide?â€? Gingrich said that if the “insurgencyâ€? wins, “it will be the beginning of extraordinarily important period in American politics, and in American history. For all of us to have this debate. How dangerous are the terrorists? How dangerous are the dictatorships? And what does America have to do in that kind of a dangerous world?â€? Is Newt urging that if Lieberman wins the GOP frame this debate in a way to suggest that Democrats don’t think terrorists are very dangerous? What would that mean to Democrats and how will they counter that?

Surprises do happen in politics, and Lieberman could theoretically win. But given polls like the latest showing challenger Ned Lamont ahead of Lieberman among Democratic voters 54 to 41 percent, if you believe that you also expect a nice, furry rabbit to hide eggs in your house next Easter. (UPDATE: The NEWEST poll results from the same poll shows that Lieberman has CUT Lamont’s lead 51 to 45 percent with 3 percent of voters undecided.)

The Los Angeles Times notes that Lamont went from zero to favorite in seven months. What has happened since then? What’s clear: there is a TREND — and it is not in Joe Lieberman’s favor.

If Lieberman does lose as expected, you can look at it and draw all kinds of lessons and conclusions (and some may be contradictory). A few:

Bipartisanship Has Limits:
If Karl Rove’s strategy has been to paint the United States’ security in danger if Democrats win control, and accuse Democrats who raise questions about the war as wanting to “cut and runâ€? (event it is conceivable that someone supported the war but has very serious questions about its conduct), then it doomed Lieberman’s brand of bipartisanship. Rather than cultivate cooperation, Bush’s “you’re either with us or against usâ€? has been applied to domestic politics and it sabotaged Lieberman’s cooperation with Bush would be perceived by many in his party.

The Netroots Won’t Be Counted Out: Howard Dean was widely seen as a product of Internet activists, but he tanked at the ballot box. The “netroots� hasn’t had much luck in winning elections. If Lieberman wins, it’ll be considered a force more blustery than effective. If he loses, it’ll be considered an VITAL 21st-Century political force. Conservatives have recently countered by starting the “Rightroots� to help conservative candidates)

Who Will The Independents Sympathize With After Tuesday? Watch the polls after Tuesday. The conventional wisdom by Lieberman’s defenders is that this primary can be subtitled Revenge of the McGovernites and that centrists and moderates will move towards the GOP in a general election. But is dissatisfaction — and concern — over an administration that has even alarmed even many traditional conservatives going to trump anything else? Lieberman’s defenders argue this is part of a historic fight; his critics say we’re in a different era with a government that is showing authoritarian tendencies. Several recent columnists who previously supported the war now basically call it a lost cause. It could be that the political ground is substantially shifting now.

A Lieberman Loss Will Change The 2008 Calculations:
Criticism of the war will become stronger. Al Gore has been getting “netroots� praise. Will he seize the moment? And will this also send a message to GOPers that they must nominate a 2008 Presidential candidate who can pick up independent and moderate support (such as John McCain or Rudy Giuliani)?

If Lieberman Had Better Political Skills, This Might Not Have Happened:
Pundits will attribute a Lieberman political loss to the “netroots,� to Democratic activists wanting to purge their party of people who support the war, to the far left trying to dismember the influence of the moderate DLC. But another factor may be that Joe Lieberman has proven to be a lousy politician. He made some classic errors. He didn’t cultivate his base support back home. (I have a relative who met Lieberman and to this day insists he is a “sourpuss� even though she voted for him in the past).

When Joe Lieberman took Democrats to task for blasting Bush and noted that the commander in chief deserves support while the war is on, he sealed his fate. Bush squandered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to cultivate the bipartisanship that briefly blossomed after 911 and has headed one of the most divisive, polarizing, political attack-mode administrations in American history. Republicans praising Lieberman as a good Democrat cost him votes since they have been going after Democrats as, in effect, a danger to American security…which means protecting American lives.

If Lieberman loses, perhaps this clip from Ed Schultz Show last week where Schultz interviews Lieberman will provide some evidence why. When pressed by Schultz (about whether he would now demand Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, Lieberman says yes he would but it’s the President’s call to do that.

It’s a fatal mindset due to the way Bush & Co. have encouraged bitter partisanship. It is not only Democrats who want — and demand — vigorous Congressional oversight of an administration that has unilaterally expanded the exercise of executive power in a ways seemingly once unimaginable. Quietly deferring to a highly-partisan President is no longer an option for many Americans — which is why Joe Lieberman’s political career may move into a different phase come Tuesday. As so, if polls are correct, will Ned Lamont’s.

This post is cross-posted here on the Unity08 website.

UPDATE: There is a huge amount of interest in this race on weblogs of all political persuasions. Here’s a cross-section of opinion:

Oxblog’s David Adesnik has a long and (as usual) thoughtful post. A small taste:

He often criticizes the conduct of the war, in the same manner as numerous conservatives. But Lieberman never seems to go after Bush in a personal, partisan manner. He makes no efforts to score points for the Democratic party. It seems Lieberman isn’t even sure whose side he is on when it comes to Iraq, the Democrats’ or Bush….[Adesnik recounts some criticism of Democrats from Bill Kristol,]The problem isn’t that Lieberman is pro-American. It’s that he refuses to be anti-Bush.

Ron Beasley looks at our post and says: “I can’t say I agree with it 100% but at the same time I can’t find much to argue with. Joe realizes that it’s about more than the war.”

The Glittering Eye’s must-read post looks at Cokie Robert’s contention that a Lamont victory would be disastrous for the Democratic party and writes:

I honestly don’t care who the citizens of Connecticut elect to serve them as their senator. In all likelihood whoever is elected, whether Lieberman or Lamont, will still caucus with the Democrats. IMO trading a senator with 18 years of seniority for a freshman strikes me as imprudent but, again, that’s their call and again IMO those of Lamont’s supporters who believe that he will vote slavishly for straight party line positions are likely to be very disappointed. Election to the Senate is in some ways very liberating. He will, no doubt, do what most senators do: spend the lion’s share of his time fundraising for his re-election and will vote as he sees fit.


Whether or not Senator Lieberman wins his primary, the interest of Democrats in a candidate other than the ones who remain steadfastly defensive of their own ‘pro-Iraq War resolution’ vote and of the war itself is already quite obvious. The damage to the Lieberman mindset has already been done – set in concrete – whether or not he is given a slim margin by Connecticut Democrats to run in November. Of course, a primary loss would give this rolling grassroots stone a lot more speed. This was a man who was a popular VP candidate with Democrats in 2000 – and a “loserman” to Republicans. The fact that there’s been a near 180-degree turnaround should be lost on no political analyst.

Underground Railroad:

The only remaining question about the Democratic primary for Senate in the state of Connecticut is how just wide Joe Lieberman’s margin of defeat will become. The MSM is framing this as anti-war, dovish liberals taking the Democratic Party into the abyss just like in the ’70s with Vietnam. This perspective is wrong on so many fronts that it should be obvious to anyone paying attention, but few people actually pay attention any more so let’s spell it out.

–A You Tube video of Michelle Malkin talking about the Lieberman/Lamont race IS HERE.

Steph Fantastic: “I’ve been canvassing for joe lieberman for the past four days. & i’m terribly exhausted.But today was completely embarrassing. instead of canvassing, i was forced to join a mob of rowdy lieberman fans that pretty much followed him around and cheered, “go joe go!”.

James at My Space:

Let me start off by saying that I’m no fan of the Lieb. His first amendment credentials are sorely lacking. But that isn’t what he’s being hung on. Its all about the war, and the current talking points from the left say that his primary defeat is going to be a huge victory for the anti-war left, and a sign of things to come, not just in November, but in ’08 as well. Would that this were the case.

A Lieberman primary loss would, quite frankly, be a huge blow to the Democratic party. Polls show that were Lieberman to lose the primary and decide to run as an independent, he would win in a landslide. Practically, this would have little effect, as he has already stated that he would caucus with the dems, and the primary loss would have no effect on his votes. The real defeat would be in what this demonstrates.

David Sirota:

Washington lobbyists, Enron shills, and right-wing neoconservative ideologues in D.C. will keep showering Lieberman in cash and praise because Lieberman has served them so obediently over the years. And they are afraid that Lamont might actually be a Senator who represents ordinary people that they could not control.

That is what this race is all about. That is why the Washington cocktail party circuit is freaking out as never before. They know that this could be the beginning of the end of the era where American politics is their exclusive property, where public policy is handed down from their gated communities in Northern Virginia, and where the future of this country is decided in air conditioned office suites on K Street. They are, in short, having a collective temper tantrum that small-d democracy actually still exists in America. And come Tuesday, if we work as hard as possible, we’re going to show them that their panic is justified – because we’re taking our country back.

–Political Arithmetik has a GREAT POST analyzing various polls and concludes:

This is a remarkable collapse for Lieberman. While the war issue is the most mentioned reason for opposing him and supporting Lamont, the inability of a veteran Senator to respond to this challenge and rally his campaign supporters is stunning. Next Tuesday we’ll find out if the polls were right or not. But regardless, the ineffectual Lieberman campaign is a reminder that incumbents are “safe” only when they have the skill to keep themselves so.

Poliblog’s Matthew Shugart: “However, if the interest groups that currently support Lieberman were to defect upon a convincing primary win by Lamont, then Liberman could find himself without the support needed to carry on his sore-loser independent campaign. Still, with a very weak Republican candidate, there would be little risk from a continued Lieberman campaign; that is, little risk that his independent bid would tip the seat to the Republicans…”

James Joyner:

The netroots are increasingly guiding Democratic party politics–and, more importantly, fundraising and recruiting of campaign volunteers. They’re more powerful, by far, than they were in 2004 when they only failed to get Howard Dean the party’s presidential nomination because of his own self-destruction before a live television audience. As bad as both Al Gore and John Kerry were as candidates, they were light years better than Dean would have been.

Andrew Sullivan: “Will Lieberman’s impending defeat lay the foundations for a Gore nomination? The ironies mount. My own view is that Gore is the only Democratic candidate for president who could conceivably mount a credible challenge to McCain.”

Agitprop writing on Taylor Marsh’s site:

And, citizens of Connecticut, even if you defeat Holy Joe in the primary on August 8th, guess what? You still won’t be rid of him! See, Joe knows better than you voters what’s good for you, so he’ll run as an Independent if you try to take “his” Senate seat away. That’s why you’ll have another opportunity to dump Lieberman in the fall – because he won’t take no for an answer. For now, ask him about all this stuff – but especially about his support for the Dear Leader’s war. Lately he’s been strangely silent about that. And let’s not forget the Lieberman thugs – a sign of desperation.

TPM Cafe:

I was going to end this post with some attempt to figure out why it happened, but all explanation – such as that he doesn’t quite understand how politics has changed since the 1990s – seems inadequate to the magnitude of the flame-out. I think it’s possible that after the primary, unleashed from the obligation of being a checklist Democrat, Lieberman may emerge as a very, very conservative figure, one of those real neoconservatives (in the older sense of the word) whose main politics is to obsess over and recoil at what they see as the excesses of the left. Michael Barone is a good example of such a figure, and that way madness lies. I’m just speculating, but if that does occur, we’ll understand why he couldn’t run a plausible Democratic campaign in 2006: he couldn’t bring himself to.


It’s a real shame about bipartisanship going the way of the buggy whip, but blaming Democrats for it is laughable. If anything they hung on long after it was obvious that the Republicans were punking them over and over again. Rank and file Democrats have finally had it up to here and are sending a message to their party that they aren’t going to sit by and let it happen anymore. The country is in deep trouble and somebody has to step up and put a stop to this.

Naturally, now that the crooked Republicans have shown themselves to be miserable failures at every aspect of governing, which they have consciously done without Democratic input, the mandarins who have been conspicuously silent about the excessive GOP partisanship of the last six years (and the previous decade as well) are calling for comity. If Democrats win in November, I have no doubt we are going to read sanctimonious op-ed after sanctimonious speech about how the Democrats need to put all this unpleasantness behind them and run the congress in a bipartisan spirit to heal the country’s wounds.

Booman Tribune has an interesting piece. Here’s a small part of it:

We are not living in 1972. The only similarity is that the nation is at war, and the Democrats want to end that war. The nation has learned the lesson of Vietnam, which is that the dominoes didn’t fall, the world didn’t end, communism didn’t triumph. The same will be true of terrorism. Far from alienating the voters, Lamont seems to have energized them. There has been a huge influx of voters in Connecticut switching from unaffiliated to Democratic in order to vote in this primary. The party rolls are swelling. Turnout may be better than at any time in the last thirty-years.

What the pundits don’t understand is that there is an actual power shift going on that changes what is possible. When we give free media, it doesn’t need to be paid for. When we give thousands in small contibutions, it makes politicians less reliant on corporate money. That automatically moves the debate to the left. And when the people see people that are willing to talk like them and represent their interests, they respond to it.

Political Critic:

Despite what pundits and journalists claim, the best thing that can happen to the Democratic Party is for Senator Joe Lieberman to lose his seat. If Ned Lamont wins on Tuesday and again in November, it will change the way the Democratic party talks about the war in Iraq and will force them to stop running to the political middle. Right now, the Democrats are directionless. They have been scared to death to challenge this President on anything in the past six years. Rather than take a stand, they fold to the GOP at every turn.

The Democrats have been so busy running to the middle in order to appeal to everybody, that they have forgotten what their values actually are. When a true Democrat like Howard Dean speaks out, they leave him hanging in the wind by his lonesome. It is really quite pathetic.

Bull Moose, in his final post before going on vacation, writes in part:

The only jihad many in the left-wing in the party are interested in is the one against the party’s former vice presidential standard bearer. The reason that the Moose devotes so much attention to the Connecticut Senate race is that it is the main battleground for the soul of the party. A national, litmus test purge is underway, and it’s unambiguous purpose is to intimidate centrists in the party.

The sole good news for the Republicans has been the rise of the nutroots blogosphere which is intent on moving the Democrats to the left. If the Democrats have no room for a left-center hawk who cares about values issues, it will won’t be a majority party absent a complete collapse of the Republicans.

Even if Democrats gain control over one or both chambers this fall, the White House will be unattainable in ’08 if the left alienates the vital center. Only hawks win Presidential elections. Unfortunately, even some of the best in the party either haven’t figured this out, are nutroots collaborationists or have declared neutrality.

John Aravosis, in considerable detail, makes the case that Lieberman deserves to be booted for more than just opposing the war. An excerpt 4 U:

We have a serious problem in America today in which debate and dissent and checks and balances are no longer considered patriotic. Just when the Democrats are starting to get the nerve to occasionally and meekly challenge George Bush publicly, Joe Lieberman steps in to stab them in the back. That makes his crime that much worse, not just in terms of how serious a betrayal it was to a party that was already on thin ice speaking out in a land where speaking out is no longer welcome, but it’s also a betrayal of America’s values. Lieberman decided to associate himself with the worst McCarthyite wing of modern-day conservatism. And that’s a far bigger deal than simply his point of view on “one issue.

Armando at Daily Kos, who was an early Lieberman critic urging that Lieberman be dumped, writes about the Connecticut Democratic party activists who have been working to get replace Lieberman with another Democrat. Here’s one quote from his piece:”The heroes are ctkeith, the Swam, and thousands of others who demanded their Democratic Party back. I hope they can take it back starting Tuesday. But they have already done the impossible, and that makes them mighty.” –>

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