Dodd-Lieberman Race Worries Some Conn. Voters

One might think Connecticut Democrats would be excited at the prospect of a presidential race between the state's two senators.

But the possibility -- however remote -- of a competition between Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd also would force fellow Democrats to choose between the two.

"I'll drive off that bridge when I come to it," said George Jepsen, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Lieberman, his party's nominee for vice president in 2000, is expected to announce his plans for the 2004 presidential campaign on Monday. Dodd also is considering a run for president.

A race between two candidates from the same state and same party for president is rare, according to two Connecticut political science professors.

Howard L. Reiter of the University of Connecticut and John Orman of Fairfield University cited only one other example: Vice President Hubert Humphrey and U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, both of Minnesota, sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. 

The vice presidential nomination was sought by Tennessee senators Albert Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver in 1956. Kefauver was nominated by the Democratic Party as Adlai Stevenson's running mate. 

Connecticut Democrats reject the notion that Dodd, who was elected to the Senate in 1980, and Lieberman, who was elected in 1988, would fracture the party in such a campaign.

John F. Droney, who served as chairman of the state party from 1986 to 1992, said Connecticut already has produced one chief executive, President Bush, who was born in New Haven before moving to Texas.

"We may not have had a governor in a really long time, but we have had a president, and some great U.S. senators and congresspeople, so we're used to having a lot to choose from," Droney said.

Political strategist Jonathan Pelto, a former state representative and former executive director of the state party, said a "goodhearted" rivalry might develop between Lieberman and Dodd. Still, "any sort of criticism will be behind the scenes," he said. "There's never really been any animosity between them."

Ed Marcus, who served as state party chairman from 1992 to 2000, reminded observers that if Dodd and Lieberman choose to run, they'll join a crowded and competitive field of Democrats seeking to take on Bush.

Democratic candidates include former U.S. House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, U.S. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

"If they do both run it'll make a fascinating political exercise," Marcus said. "I think the likelihood of that happening is relatively small, but it's certainly a possibility."