Democratic leaders kept their promise Wednesday and publicly voiced their support for Senate candidate Ned Lamont, calling on incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman to abandon his renegade run as an independent.
“I like being on your team,” Lamont told fellow Democrats. "We're going forward with a strong vision."
Lieberman's decision to file petitions for an independent run defied leaders of the Democratic Party, who called on him to unite behind political upstart Lamont, an antiwar candidate who beat the incumbent senator in the party's primary Tuesday. Lieberman supported the Iraq war; this race has been seen by many as a referendum on that issue.
Lieberman said Wednesday it would be "irresponsible and inconsistent with my principles if I were to just walk off the field" and not continue his re-election campaign.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a friend of Lieberman, joined other Democrats in endorsing Lamont.
“It’s moments like this that are very difficult,” Dodd said. “This isn’t just about relationships or friendships or about candidacies, it’s about the people we seek to represent.”
Lieberman said his campaign had collected more than 18,000 signatures, more than twice the 7,500 needed to secure a spot on the ballot.
"I'm an independent Democrat, seeking the support of Democrats, Republicans and Independents in Connecticut," Lieberman said. "They're the ones that sent me to Washington three times before."
Dodd said he disapproved of Lieberman’s decision to file petitions for an independent run.
“I regret that decision, but that was his decision to make,” Dodd said. “My hope would be that the voters of this state, Democrats unaffiliated and Republicans, would see the importance of electing Ned Lamont.”
Lieberman said he will move ahead despite the loss of support from some Democratic colleagues.
"When I see some of my friends in the Senate turning to Lamont, I can't conceal the fact that it hurts personally," Lieberman told FOX News. "The primary is over, the endorsements are over. We're gonna have a lot of support among political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, but most of all, we're gonna get support from the people of Connecticut."
Other Democrat leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Russ Feingold endorsed Lamont. Other Democratic figures such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton appeared on Lamont's victory stage Tuesday night.
Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York issued a joint statement in support of Lamont.
"Joe Lieberman has been an effective Democratic senator for Connecticut and for America," the statement reads. "But the perception was that he was too close to George Bush and this election was, in many respects, a referendum on the president more than anything else. The results bode well for Democratic victories in November and our efforts to take the country in a new direction."
Kerry also sent out a statement calling on Democrats to back Lamont.
"It's time for all Democrats to come together to support Ned Lamont," Kerry said. "It's time for Democrats to unite."
Lamont, a millionaire owner of a cable television company, will now face Republican Alan Schlesinger in November's general election. Schlesinger, a former state lawmaker who campaigned on Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq and dealings with President Bush, told supporters Tuesday that "tonight we voted for big change."
In the week running up to the primary, Lieberman fired back against criticisms to his position on the war in Iraq, but Tuesday night's outcome showed it wasn't enough.
"Looking back, I wish we would have responded to the distortions of my record, particularly on Iraq," Lieberman said.
Lamont, an antiwar supporter, won with 52 percent of the vote, or 146,061 votes, to 48 percent for Lieberman, or 136,042, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
The White House said the primary election shows where Democrats are headed.
"This is a defining moment, in some ways, for the Democratic Party," said spokesman Tony Snow. "I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president, and I would flip it. ... National leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left of their party, they are going to come after you."
Snow dismissed calls to pullout from Iraq, an issue in the race, saying it is important to stay the course.
"This president has made it clear that we're in it to make sure that the people of Iraq do in fact have the opportunity to live free and in a democracy," Snow said. "This president does not intend and will not walk away from the promises he has made."
Some Democrats had hinted at the need for Lieberman to drop his independent bid if he lost by a wide margin.
"I think he really has to take a look at what reality is," Lautenberg said.
Lieberman's loss made him only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary since 1980, and came just six years after he was the Democrats' choice for vice president.
Lieberman was behind Lamont in support among Democrats but registered Connecticut voters of all affiliations backed him over Lamont and his Republican challenger, according to a mid-July Quinnipiac University poll.
Vote totals showed roughly 16,000 more ballots cast for the Democratic Senate primary than the party primary for governor.
In the run-up to the primary, 14,000 new Connecticut voters registered as Democrats, while another 14,000 state voters switched their registration from unaffiliated to Democrat to vote in the primary.
The primary election got heated on Tuesday when Lieberman's campaign accused Lamont's supporters of hacking into his campaign Web site, www.joe2006.com, and shutting it down.
Lieberman campaign officials said they wanted an investigation by federal and state authorities. Lamont's campaign denied any involvement.
Two other incumbents in Congress also lost their seats Tuesday.
McKinney drew national media attention in March when she struck a Capitol Police officer after he didn't recognizer her and tried to prevent her from bypassing security in House office building.
In Michigan, moderate Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz lost to a conservative in a GOP primary.
Schwarz, a moderate who supports abortion rights, lost to conservative Tim Walberg, a former state lawmaker. The race drew more than $1 million from outside groups; Schwarz had received support from Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
In Colorado, state Sen. Doug Lamborn won the GOP nomination to succeed 10-term Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, and attorney Ed Perlmutter won the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republican nominee for governor.
And in Missouri, Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, won their party's primaries.
FOX News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.