Roll Call (subscription required) looks at the challenges posed for Democrats by a potential Lieberman Independent bid for re-election. No real mention of the Dean angle, which I hit upon more directly when I looked at this recently.
Lieberman Could Put Leaders in Bind
June 21, 2006
By John Stanton and Nicole Duran,
Roll Call Staff
Should Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) opt to run as an Independent for re-election if he is defeated in Connecticut’s August Democratic primary by political upstart Ned Lamont, Senate Democratic leaders could find themselves in uncharted political waters in deciding which candidate to back against Republican Alan Schlesinger and whether sanctions would be imposed on Lieberman for leaving the party even temporarily.
Although the Senate has twice before seen incumbents launch Independent re-election bids following a primary defeat — including, ironically, an unsuccessful 1970 run by the late Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.), the father of Connecticut’s other Democratic Senator, Chris Dodd — neither of those instances seems likely to provide a precedent for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), according to Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie.
Publicly, both Lieberman and Senate Democrats insist they are making no plans for a potential bid as an Independent and insist they are confident he will prevail in his party’s primary contest.
“He said ‘I’m a Democrat, period,’” Lieberman spokeswoman Marion Steinfels said. “Sen. Lieberman has said he always will be a Democrat. This is all speculation. Our campaign is completely 100 percent focused on winning Aug. 8. No one is sitting around strategizing” about an Independent bid.
DSCC spokesman Phil Singer called speculation about a possible Independent run “much ado about nothing: Joe Lieberman is and will remain a candidate in the Democratic primary.” Schumer, however, refused to rule out backing Lieberman should he run without the party label when asked about it at a news conference last week.
When pressed on the matter by a reporter, Schumer said: “There are a lot of choices” if Lieberman loses the primary. “You can run as an Independent, you can run as an independent Democrat ... we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
With Lamont mounting a serious challenge, Senate Democrats are making a point of rallying around Lieberman, with many lawmakers expected to travel to the Nutmeg State in the coming weeks. His Senate Democratic colleagues already have donated more than $49,000 since 2004 to his re-election campaign.
“I disagree with Joe on the war, but there are a lot of things we agree on,” one Democratic Senator close to Lieberman said. The lawmaker, who has clashed with Lieberman in the past, nevertheless said that he will travel to Connecticut in the run-up to the primary to campaign for his colleague.
The Senator also argued that Lieberman is the stronger candidate and that a Lamont win could seriously damage the party’s ability to take control of the Senate. “Joe Lieberman represents our best chance of taking back the majority. I think that if Ned Lamont wins that primary we’re in real danger of losing that seat” in November, the Senator said.
Privately, however, Democrats acknowledge that Lieberman — whose positions on the Iraq war and often close relationship with the Bush administration have rankled many in the party — could force his fellow Senators to choose between backing one of their own and abiding by the wishes of the state’s Democratic voters. Lieberman’s decision to leave the door open to an Independent run has angered many rank-and-file Democratic activists and has added an unwanted wrinkle to Democrats’ long-shot efforts to gain control of the Senate in November.
“Lieberman running as an Independent will do major damage to our party, undoing all the work we have been doing building relationships between Democrats in Washington and the [liberal] base back home,” a senior Democratic aide said, warning that “If the DSCC and the establishment support a Lieberman Independent bid, it would send a message to state parties that they don’t matter anymore. That would be devastating. Lieberman needs to run in the primary, follow the rules, and work hard for a win. Any other option should be off the table.”
...Leadership aides said neither Reid nor Schumer is preparing for fallout from a possible Independent run and insisted no discussions have occurred on whether to back an Independent campaign by Lieberman or whether the Caucus would force him to step down as ranking member of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
State party leaders in Connecticut are also hopeful that a three-way race is a dilemma they will not have to face.
“I will be endorsing the Democratic Party candidate, who I anticipate will be Joe Lieberman,” said Nancy DiNardo, the state party chairman.
According to Ritchie, an Independent campaign by Lieberman would represent only the third time that an incumbent would have taken such a step in modern Senate history. In the case of Dodd, following his loss to Joseph Duffey in the Democratic primary, he mounted an Independent bid, garnering 24 percent of the popular vote to Duffy’s 33 percent, essentially splitting the Democratic vote and allowing GOP challenger Lowell Weicker to win the election. (Lieberman unseated Weicker in 1988, and Weicker would later win election as Connecticut governor running as an Independent.)
However, the Dodd case was significantly different than this year’s election. In 1967, Dodd was censured by the Senate for inappropriate personal use of campaign funds, according to Ritchie. Dodd was also neither the chairman nor ranking member of a committee, unlike Lieberman. Lieberman has also not been the subject of any ethics scandals or censure.
Similarly, Lieberman’s circumstances are only partially similar to those surrounding the Senate’s other example in which former Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) ran on the Liberal Party ticket after being defeated in the GOP primary by Alfonse D’Amato. Although Javits was ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee — and was sworn in as the committee chairman for his last day in the Senate — his 1980 Liberal Party challenge to D’Amato was, according Ritchie, prompted largely out of anger at D’Amato for basing much of his primary challenge on Javits’ poor health rather than his record in office.
Clearly, the fight between Lieberman and the Netroots may cause huge troubles for the Democratic party.
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