Three-Term Senator Plans to Run in General Election as an Independent
By Dan Balz and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 8, 2006; 11:18 PM
HARTFORD, Conn., Aug . 8 -- In a stunning repudiation, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) lost the Democratic Senate primary here Tuesday night, falling to antiwar candidate Ned Lamont in a campaign that became a referendum on the incumbent's support for the Iraq war and what opponents charged was his failure to challenge President Bush's war policies.
Lieberman conceded the race to Lamont late Tuesday, but vowed to run in the general election in November as an independent.
The three-term senator lost his bid for renomination exactly six years after he was chosen as Al Gore's vice presidential running mate, marking a fall from grace among his fellow Democrats that came with brutal swiftness and that signaled the growing strength of the antiwar movement inside the Democratic Party.
With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, Lamont had about 52 percent of the vote to Lieberman's 48 percent. The Connecticut secretary of state's office reported strong turnout in a campaign that built in intensity over the summer.
Lieberman had said that, if he lost the primary to Lamont, he would run as an independent in the general election in November. His campaign been gathering the necessary signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
As the votes came in from around the state, Lieberman's advisers said he was encouraged that the margin was narower than pre-election polls had indicated and that there was no change in his thinking about running as an independent, despite what is likely to be pressure from party leaders to bow out of the general election for the sake of Democratic unity.
The Senate primary was closely watched around the country as a barometer of antiwar sentiment that could shape the November midterm elections, particularly in Democratic-leaning states.
Beyond that, the Lieberman-Lamont contest carried implications for a Democratic Party that long has been split over national security and whose congressional leaders and prospective 2008 presidential candidates have struggled to find consensus on the war.
Republicans officials have argued that a Lamont victory would represent a left-turn for the Democrats on security issues, a charge that Democratic leaders have rejected, arguing that the contest here was as much about Democratic frustration with the president as with the war.
At a minimum, the Connecticut primary is likely to assure that Democrats of all stripes -- those who initially supported the war and those who have opposed it -- take a more aggressive posture in combating the president and his policies at home and abroad.
Lieberman had trailed badly in some pre-election polls and mounted a final-week push that included a Sunday night speech designed to address criticism of his position on the war and his relationship with Bush. That helped make the contest much tighter than it once appeared, but still left Lieberman short of his goal.
Lieberman, 64, was first elected in 1988, defeating then-Republican senator Lowell Weicker. Earlier he served as Connecticut attorney general. In this three terms in the Senate, he became one of the party's most prominent hawks on military matters and an advocate of bipartisanship who sometimes relished his reputation for crossing party lines on matters of principle.
Those characteristics put him on the defensive in the primary campaign, despite the fact that he enjoyed the enjoyed the support of former president Bill Clinton and an array of Democratic officials nationally and in the state. He also drew the support of major newspapers in Connecticut and key Democratic constituency groups.
Lamont, 52, is a wealthy Greenwich businessman whose great-grandfather, Thomas W. Lamont, was a chairman of J. P. Morgan & Co. He made a fortune in the telecommunications industry but is a relative newcomer to politics, having served previously as a Greenwich selectman. He lost a bid for the state Senate in 1990.
Lamont built his campaign initially with the enthusiastic support of the so-called Net roots -- bloggers and other Internet-based activists -- and then branched out with a grass-roots campaign. The effort attracted rank-and-file Democrats who oppose the war and who complain that Lieberman has neglected the interests of his home state.
Many Democratic officials said that, despite their support for Lieberman in the primary, they would back Lamont in the general election if he defeated the incumbent.
Lieberman hopes to attract moderate independent and even some Republican voters to save his Senate seat. Aides said Tuesday he would make an issue of his bipartisan approach to governing a central theme of an independent candidacy in November.
Earlier, as voters went to the polls, Lieberman made a series of campaign appearances and aired a new television ad. Lamont visited polling places and focused on efforts to get out the vote, hoping that an apparent surge of interest in the race would favor him.
Polls in the state opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. EDT.
After voting got underway, the Lieberman campaign today accused Lamont's supporters of hacking the incumbent's campaign Web site. Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager, called the crash of the site this morning "a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise voters" and said the campaign has asked state and federal authorities to investigate.
Lamont dismissed the accusation as "just another scurrilous charge," the Associated Press reported. A spokesman for Lamont, Tim Tagaris, said in a statement, "If Senator Lieberman's Web site was indeed hacked, we had absolutely no part in it, denounce the action, and urge whoever is responsible [to] cease and desist immediately."
Saying that "today's the day to vote for change," Lamont told voters on his Web site, "As Connecticut residents, we have a unique opportunity to signal Americans are ready to change the course in Iraq, and here at home."
In the last three months, more than 27,000 new or unaffiliated voters have registered as Democrats in Connecticut, swelling the ranks of eligible Democratic voters in today's primary to about 700,000.
While primaries are being held in several other states today, the race in Connecticut has drawn most of the national attention because of its role as an indicator of voter sentiment on an increasingly unpopular war and its implications for a Democratic Party riven by divisions over foreign policy.
Lamont concentrated his challenge to Lieberman on the incumbent's support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and his continued backing of the war effort since then. Calling the war a "defining issue" in the contest, Lamont denounced Lieberman during the campaign as a "lapdog" for President Bush and an enabler of Bush's war policy.
In a message to voters on his Web site today, Lamont said, "Your vote will determine the national headlines tomorrow: 'Connecticut Democrats show support for war, President Bush' or 'Democrats in Connecticut foreshadow national call for accountability in Iraq.' Your call."
Saying that "the eyes of a nation are upon our efforts," he wrote that today's vote will determine whether Americans are "ready to change the course in Iraq" and channel the money being spent there to domestic issues instead.
"Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars a day in Iraq, it is time for America to refocus on issues back home: fixing our health care system, upgrading our schools, and rebuilding our aging infrastructure," Lamont said.
Before launching his campaign stressing "progressive Democratic values," Lamont served for eight years in local government in Greenwich -- his only political experience to date -- and chaired the Connecticut investment advisory council. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1990.
Lieberman delivered what he called his "closing argument" for reelection in an appearance Sunday with former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a disabled Vietnam veteran, condemning what he said was Lamont's "false charge that I am George Bush's best friend and enabler." The incumbent noted that he has disagreed with Bush on such issues as stem cell research, global warming and tax cuts, and he said he has criticized the administration's conduct of the war, Bloomberg news service reported.
"I know as well as anyone we have made a lot of mistakes in Iraq and we have suffered more casualties than we should have," Lieberman said. "I feel a heavy responsibility to try to end it as quickly and successfully as possible."
Lieberman has indicated that if he loses the primary, he could run in the November election as an independent. Having won reelection in 2000 with 63 percent of the vote, he could be able to attract support from Republicans and independents in a three-way race with Lamont and the GOP nominee, Alan Schlesinger, who is not considered a strong candidate.
While Lieberman's backing for the administration's war policy drew praise from Bush and other top officials, it spurred a backlash among many Democrats. In a speech to a Washington think tank in December, Lieberman chastised Democratic critics of the war, urging them to get behind the effort to achieve victory.
An operation that "arguably began as a 'war of choice' has become a 'war of necessity' we cannot afford to lose." Lieberman said. "The costs of victory in Iraq will be large for the U.S. But the costs of defeat would be disastrous for the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, and most of the world."
The senator urged Americans to "set aside for now the arguments about why we got into Iraq so that we can work together on how we can get out best in victory and honor with the job done." He added, "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be commander-in-chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."
But some Democratic opponents of the war concluded it was time for a change in Connecticut's congressional delegation, and Lamont's initially long-shot campaign began attracting widespread interest from like-minded activists.
In the Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, Lamont was leading Lieberman by 51 percent to 45 percent among likely Democratic primary voters. That was down from the 54-41 percent lead Lamont held in an Aug. 3 poll by Quinnipiac.