The Democratic Party’s hopes for 2006 got a huge boost last week when anti-war candidate Ned Lamont defeated “Bush love child” Sen. Joseph Lieberman for the Democratic nomination. Activists were thrilled. With the pro-war Lieberman laid low, nothing could now stand in the way of the party making the 2006 election a referendum on Bush’s unpopular Iraq quagmire.
Sure, Lieberman had said he would run as an independent candidate, but that could easily be positioned as sour grapes from the “Sore Loserman.” The Democratic party would formally line up behind Lamont, and, at the urging of activists, Lieberman would be threatened with reprisals if he continued the race. Eventually, facing humiliation, the rejection of his colleagues and defeat at the polls, Lieberman would drop out, leaving the field open for Lamont, and allowing the true voice of the people to be heard. The Republican candidate was a non-entity involved in scandals. Lamont would win by acclamation.
So far, it’s not working out quite that way. As this NY Times story and the poll cited in this story demonstrate, Lieberman is not only still a viable candidate, he’s ahead in the polls. Suddenly, Lamont doesn’t seem so fresh as he seems inexperienced and mistake-prone. And, it could turn out that Lieberman is now free to tap into another interpretation of the true voice of the people: That they don’t like the ideologues of either party.
In a state where Republican and independent voters make up a majority of the electorate, Mr. Lieberman is still developing a message about bipartisanship, but his aides say it will involve adopting positions from both parties and being willing to criticize Democrats as well as Republicans. Meanwhile, Mr. Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire, now has to calibrate his own identity as self-described liberal.
As Lieberman starts to look like a possible winner, the chance that Democratic party pressure will be applied to get him to quit the race diminishes to zero. The party’s real goal is to take back the Senate. If they do, it will be close. They’ll have 51 or 52 seats according to the most optimistic scenario. The last thing the Democrats want to see happen is for a re-elected Lieberman to align with the Republicans in a closely-divided Senate. The Dems could lose control at the very moment they’ve gained it.
So the Democratic Party is now going to have to spend a lot of money that could be used to beat Republicans, trying to help a Democrat beat another Democrat in a Democratic state. Brilliant!