Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Joe Must Go!
Lieberman Launches "Cut & Run" Campaign
by Paul Bass | July 3, 2006 02:39 PM
Lieberman reiterated that he's running as hard as he can to win the Democratic primary, the first time an incumbent Democratic senator has faced such a challenge in Connecticut in 36 years.
But as of Monday, his campaign will canvass voters to sign petitions to get him a place on the November ballot as an independent.
It was a striking symbol of how political tides have turned in Connecticut and of a downward trajectory in Lieberman's own career. Just six years ago he was an international celebrity as Al Gore's running mate in the presidential campaign. He ran for president in 2004, although he didn't get far. He started this year far ahead of Lamont in the polls. Now a three-term incumbent is fighting for his life to retain his own party's nomination.
In anticipation of today's announcement, Lieberman's online blog critics have already dubbed his quest the "Cut and Run 2006" campaign. If he loses the primary to Lamont, that move will ensure a wild three-way race beyond the ability of pundits and consultants to call, with Lamont running as a Democrat, Alan Schlesinger as a Republican and Lieberman as an independent.
Or as "an independent Democrat," as he chose to portray his candidacy. Lieberman hesitated to announce this move until he decided he needed to, because it risks losing him votes in the Aug. 8 primary from Democrats angered over his willingness to bolt the party for his own political future.
Lieberman addressed that issue at the Capitol press conference, where he appeared alongside his wife Hadassah in front of a battery of youthful sign-holding backers who'd been ordered not to wear hats or sunglasses in the hot sun.
"I have been a proud, loyal and progressive Democrat since John F. Kennedy inspired my generation into public service," claimed Lieberman, who has come under fire for siding with Republicans on the Iraq war, tax policy, civil liberties, the right to question the president, health care, the recently passed energy bill, and the nominations of right-wing presidential appointees like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and Supreme Court nominees John Robers and Samuel Alito. "I will stay a Democrat."
Lieberman said he informed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday morning that if elected as an independent, he remain part of the Democratic Caucus and consider himself a party member.
So why bolt?
Lieberman noted that if 30 percent of Democrats vote in the primary -- the highest expected by analysts, especially in the midst of summer -- the primary winner will need only about 105,001 votes. That's about 5 percent of the state's 2 million voters. Independents are by far the state's largest voting bloc.
"I want the opportunity to put my case before all the people of Connecticut in November. They after all have the voters who have been good enough to elect me to the Senate," he said.
"This will be a competitive election. Once I decided I wanted to give all the voters in the state" the "opportunity" to vote for him in November, Lieberman said, he decided to "do it quickly and early."
"I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party," he said. Namely: "My state and my country.
"This is an act of pride and purpose and commitment to the Democratic Party," he said. If Lamont convinces Democrats to reject him in a primary based on the Iraq War, for which he has been the Democrats' most prominent cheerleader, "my party is headed down the road that will not lead us to victory," he said.
Lieberman used the appearance to try to define the Lamont campaign as a single-issue quest: the Iraq war. He asked voters to "respect" his stand in favor of the war and judge him on his whole record. The challenge for Lamont -- represented by his latest TV commercial -- is to define his candidacy as representing a set of issues, from health care to civil liberties to the environment, on which Lieberman has abandoned the Democratic Party.
Lamont was prepping for his Thursday evening debate with Lieberman when Lieberman's press conference took place. Lamont parried Lieberman's spin with his own at a 3:30 press conference outside his Meriden headquarters.
He offered a nuanced response to Lieberman's depiction of the Lamont challenge as a one-issue antiwar campaign.
On the one hand, Lamont said, "The war is a big issue. It speaks volumes about what kind of a country we are."
On the other hand, Lamont said his campaign focuses on a host of issues on which he and Lieberman disagree, citing the energy bill, school vouchers, and Alito's Supreme Court nomination.
In contrast to Lieberman's press appearance, Lamont's took place in the shade of a tree. He sat at a picnic table and answered all the questions the press could think to ask. (Like Lieberman, he appeared alongside his wife.)
His low-key responses -- no signs of passion or outrage at Lieberman's decision -- raised the question of how tough he'll be as he enters the prime-time phase of this campaign. As a bonafide candidate with a real chance of winning, Lamont will need to convey a sense of toughness and strength. The debate Thursday will test whether he'll be able to do that.
He did characterize Lieberman's independent petitioning as in keeping with the senator's stands on issues like school vouchers, social security, and the Supreme Court nominations of Alito and Clarence Thomas -- as "hedging his bets."
Lamont also responded to Lieberman's argument that Lamont's personal wealth (estimated at between $90 and $300 million) requires Lieberman to take extra steps to compete fairly. Lamont noted that Lieberman has had up to $7 million in the bank and far outspent the Lamont campaign. Lieberman has focused on the fact that Lamont has contributed $1.5 million to his own campaign, with the ability to contribute more.
"If he wants to cap spending, let's go at it," Lamont said, referring to a previous challenge to Lieberman to agree to a maximum each campaign would spend. He noted that Lieberman has raised millions from "corporate lobbyists." Lamont added that "well over 10,000 people" have made small donations to his campaign.
"If he wants to run as a Democrat, run as a Democrat. Stop gaming the system," Lamont said. "Over 18 years on a lot of issues, he has tried to have it both ways."