Democrats Lose if Lieberman is Defeated

The most interesting question about the possibility that Connecticut Democrats could deny Sen. Joseph Lieberman renomination is whether that would help or hurt the senator's political prospects, or, for that matter, the Democratic Party's.

That's because even if Lieberman loses the Aug. 8 Democratic primary — and the newest polling data says that is a real possibility — he would be a huge favorite for re-election as an independent come November.

And if that is the case, it would not be hard to write a scenario in which the real loser from a Lieberman defeat to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont might be the Democratic Party itself

That would especially be the case if Lieberman's good friend Sen. John McCain of Arizona becomes the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and picks Joe as his running mate.

Then, Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in 2000, would become the only person in American history to have ever run on the national ticket of both parties. And Lieberman on a Republican fusion ticket in 2008 might be a huge GOP asset.

Farfetched, perhaps, but no more so than the idea that Democrats would reject a three-term senator who, despite his endorsement of President Bush's Iraq War policy, has generally toed the party line on most, but certainly not all, issues.

The anti-Lieberman effort has become a cause celebre for Internet gadflies who are a rising power in Democratic politics. Among Lamont's major backers is the brother of Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential candidate was the darling of the blogger set that disdains Lieberman for his cordial relationship with Bush.

The defeat of Lieberman, among the Democrats most conservative senators, would again raise the specter of a Democratic Party dominated by a liberal wing unwilling to tolerate dissent.

A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed among likely Democratic primary voters Lamont, a businessman spending part of his $100 million fortune on the race, was narrowly — within the margin of error — ahead of Lieberman, closing a 15-point gap in the last month.

Moreover, the data shows Lamont supporters are more energized and likely to actually show up at the polls than are Democrats for Lieberman.

Lieberman is collecting petition signatures to get on the November ballot as an independent if he loses the primary. The Quinnipiac poll found that in a three-way race against Lamont and a Republican, Lieberman would win by 24 points, although his margin has shrunk 14 points in the last month.

Connecticut Democrats have been down this road before. In 1970, anti-Vietnam War candidate Joseph Duffy knocked off incumbent Thomas Dodd, who had been a supporter of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's policy. Dodd's son Chris Dodd is now Connecticut's other U.S. senator.

But the anti-war wing, although powerful within Democratic primaries, did not represent the political mainstream in 1970. Duffy lost the November election to Republican Lowell Weicker, who is backing Lamont against Lieberman, who defeated him in 1988.

A Lieberman primary loss might cause more heartburn for Democrats nationally than for the candidate. Democratic primary voters have different views and values than even the larger number of Democrats who vote in the November election, not to mention independents and Republicans. All of which explains the string of Republicans White House victories.

That's why even though Lieberman is trailing among Democratic primary voters he would be the prohibitive favorite in November if he were to run in a three-way race as an independent.

That independent candidacy would complicate life for Democratic big-wigs, who would likely back Lamont against Lieberman in November. Among the 2008 presidential candidates who have said they would do so are front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, and 2004 nominee John Kerry. That would almost certainly drive a wedge between Lieberman and the Democratic hierarchy if he is re-elected.

If Lieberman were to win as an independent it would give him great influence, not just in the Senate, but as the face of a new politics that transcends party labels.

Although he has pledged to caucus with the Democrats if elected as an independent, he would be a bigger player than even today as the party's former vice presidential candidate.

And he would be an awfully attractive running mate for McCain, not to mention other potential Republican White House hopefuls.