Sen. Lieberman Beats Challenger Lamont in Connecticut

Branded a traitor and rejected by the Democratic Party, Sen. Joe Lieberman completed a dramatic political comeback Tuesday by defeating anti-war challenger Ned Lamont to win a fourth term.

Lieberman's victory as an independent comes three months after a stunning loss in the Democratic primary that put his 18-year Senate career in peril. Lamont, a wealthy businessman and political unknown, upset Lieberman in August in a contest widely seen as a referendum on Iraq and a sharp rebuke of Lieberman's pro-war views.

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Lieberman's win in Connecticut was based on a statistical analysis of the vote from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

Lieberman had 49 percent of the vote to Lamont's 40 percent with 2 percent of precincts reporting. Republican Alan Schlesinger trailed far behind with 10 percent.

Lieberman, whose independent bid rankled Democrats who questioned his party loyalty, was with his family in a suite of rooms at Hartford's Goodwin Hotel awaiting results as his supporters gathered in the atrium.

There was nervous optimism as campaign workers and unionized firefighters in yellow shirts milled about in the hall. A 20-foot-tall American flag was hung behind the podium, with the words "Sticking" and "With Joe" hanging on each side.

Lamont, whose anti-war views made him a darling of liberal bloggers, huddled with his family at a hotel room in Meriden near his campaign headquarters after a frenetic round of final campaigning around the state.

"There's been enormous turnout," Lamont said in a TV interview Tuesday. "I think we're giving people something to vote for."

Voter turnout and Lieberman's unusual ballot placement were seen as factors that could impact the results. Lieberman enjoyed a 12-point lead in a statewide poll Monday.

Because he ran as an independent, his name was low on the ballot, where his campaign feared many voters might miss it. Lieberman used a bloodhound as part of an advertising campaign to educate voters about where to find his name.

"We worry about it," Lieberman told a TV interviewer Tuesday. "That's ... one of the reasons I think it will be closer than people think."

The race was one of four being decided in Connecticut Tuesday that could have national implications. Connecticut's three Republican members of Congress -- Reps. Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons -- faced strong challenges from Democrats who, like Lamont, used an anti-war message.

Also Tuesday, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell headlined statewide races by winning her first full term, according to a statistical analysis of the vote from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

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Lieberman, 64, found his 18-year Senate career in jeopardy after a stunning loss to Lamont in the August Democratic primary. Just six years ago, he was the party's vice presidential nominee.

His independent bid, launched the day after the primary, defied party leaders who urged him to drop out.

But he remained popular with unaffiliated voters, who make up the state's largest voting bloc, and consistently outdrew Schlesinger in several statewide polls.

Connecticut is a Democratic-leaning state where the war and Bush are unpopular. Lieberman's aggressive campaign downplayed his support for President Bush's Iraq invasion, and he hammered Lamont as too partisan and too inexperienced to be an effective senator, a classic incumbent re-election message.

If re-elected, Lieberman vowed to work across party lines to deliver for Connecticut, reminding voters that if Democrats capture the Senate, he could become chairman of the Homeland Security panel. He has vowed to caucus with Senate Democrats.

Anticipated Democratic gains have raised the possibility that the Senate could end up in a 50-50 tie, or something close to it. A Lieberman win could spark intense jockeying for party loyalty, particularly among Republicans who have given cash and other support for his re-election bid.

His pro-war views won praise from Bush as well as endorsements and fundraising help from Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As the race closed, Lamont returned to his signature issue, pounding away at Lieberman on the war.

That's what 60-year-old Ron Bowman, a Democrat from Windsor, had on his mind when he went out to vote first thing Tuesday. "It was a chance for a change," he said, after casting his ballot for Lamont.

Another voter who echoed Bowman's sentiment, Shirley Swanson of Windsor, said that she, too, voted for Lamont. "He's not Lieberman. Joe isn't listening to us," she said.

Lamont favors a deadline of about 12 to 18 months for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Lieberman warns that prematurely pulling back troops could be disastrous.

Lamont, 52, a wealthy cable TV executive whose previous political experience was on the local level in Greenwich, has pumped $16 million of his own money into the race, including a $2 million loan. Lieberman raised more than $16 million.

Lamont cast himself as an outsider eager to shake up Washington. He accused Lieberman of being too cozy with lobbyists and other powerful special interests on Capitol Hill.

Republicans have largely snubbed Schlesinger, whose gambling background generated unflattering headlines earlier this year.

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