Senator Joseph I. Lieberman is a rather garden variety liberal Senator on most issues. After all, it was just six years ago that he was chosen as the Democratic Party's Vice Presidential nominee to run with then Vice President Albert A. Gore, Jr. in that election.
There are two things which these days make Joe Lieberman different than many Democrats. First, he defends religion in the public square. As the Vice Presidential nominee he spoke often of his religious life. He lists himself as an Orthodox Jew, although some Orthodox Jews dispute his orthodoxy. They claim that the Senator does not observe all Orthodox Jewish practices and they say that no truly Orthodox Jew would vote for liberalized abortion, which Lieberman has done repeatedly since becoming Connecticut's junior Senator in January, 1989.
Lieberman was elected over three-term liberal Republican Senator Lowell F. Weicker. NATIONAL REVIEW publisher William F. Buckley endorsed Lieberman over Weicker. That was a signal for conservatives in Connecticut to support Lieberman.
For his part, Lieberman campaigned against pornography and said had he been in the Senate in 1987 he would have voted to confirm Judge Robert H. Bork for the United States Supreme Court. Buckley's brother James, a former New York Senator, ran and lost to be Senator from Connecticut. Buckley's move was seen by some as a means to avenge his brother's loss.
Weicker was narrowly defeated and conservatives rejoiced. He had been a thorn in the side of conservatives for decades. Lieberman became a reliable liberal Democrat, so much so that when Vice President Gore went looking for someone with whom he would feel comfortable to run Lieberman's name popped up on the radar screen. Although the ticket lost narrowly in 2000, Lieberman got high marks for campaigning and especially for re-introducing religion to some Democratic voters.
The other point which distinguished Lieberman from his fellow liberals is Lieberman's unswerving support of the war in Iraq.
A fervent backer of Israel, Lieberman has supported most defense measures over the years but he especially has backed the war in Iraq. He believes, with President Bush, that if we would be fighting the Muslim terrorists on our soil if we weren't fighting them in Iraq.
Meanwhile Weicker renounced his Republican label and ran as an independent and won as Governor of Connecticut. He continued to be a problem for Lieberman. It is as if Lieberman were still running against Weicker years later. All of that is still relevant as Lieberman believes that it was Weicker who enticed cable TV mogul Nick Lamont into a primary against Lieberman.
Now Lieberman has announced that if he loses the Democratic Primary he will run as an independent. But he added, if elected as an independent, he would still caucus with the Democrats in Washington. That is not enough for liberal Senators such as Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). She announced that if Lamont won the Democratic Primary she would support him over Lieberman.
That is confusing to both her supporters and opponents alike. Senator Clinton has been a big-time supporter of the war in Iraq. She got booed by fellow Democrats when she opposed setting a timetable for pulling out of Iraq. So war supporters are saying if you really are with us how could you abandon Lieberman in his time of need. Opponents of the war think Senator Clinton's statement of willingness to support Lamont if he won the primary is just a gesture toward them while she continues to support the war.
If Lieberman loses the August 8th primary he has until the very next day to present 7,500 valid signatures to qualify to run as an independent. Some states have laws which prevent losers from running on another party line but Connecticut is not one of them.
Interestingly, the fact that Weicker was elected as an independent helps Lieberman in that regard. The argument cannot be made that an independent could not win.
One other prominent Connecticut candidate ran as an independent but lost. The father of the current senior Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Thomas J. Dodd, was censured by the Senate. He was then denied the Democratic nomination for re-election to the Senate in 1968. He ran well in a three-man race but not well enough. Dodd, like Lieberman, was known for his support of a strong national defense. While Lieberman worries about the advance of Muslim extremists, Dodd worried about the advance of the Soviet Union. It was the censure, for his allegedly misusing campaign funds, which killed the elder Senator Dodd, not his anti-Communism.
So far Lieberman is ahead in the Democratic Primary. But the gap has narrowed. Lamont, a complete newcomer to statewide politics, has made a race of it. He appears to be closing in on Lieberman, with eight weeks to go before the primary. The problem for Lieberman is that no one knows what a light voter turnout will mean. Clearly Lamont's voters have the greater intensity and are likely to turn out. Even veteran pollsters say the race is too difficult to read at this point.
Lieberman has accused Lamont of running a single-issue campaign-namely, the war. But in a sense, by dissenting vigorously from what has become the Democratic Party's orthodoxy-namely, opposition to the war--Lieberman has invited a single-issue campaign against him. Lamont is saying, in so many words, if you are against the war, now is the chance to make a stand, through me, and I will not disappoint you. Lieberman, for his part, has not backed down one bit. He believes, contrary to news reports, things are getting better in Iraq and it would be a mistake for the United States to abandon the Iraqi people now.
What happens in Connecticut will have profound implications nationwide. If Lamont won the primary it would be a signal to Democrats everywhere to oppose the war, regardless of their personal feelings. If Lieberman won the primary it would be a signal that there is still room for dissenters from liberal orthodoxy inside the Democratic Party. Should Lieberman run and win as an independent it would shake the Democratic Party to the core. If Lieberman lost the primary and ran as an independent candidate there would be a three-way race. Under those circumstances the national GOP possibly would be willing to back the Republican nominee with significant dollars. A Republican could win under those circumstances whereas if Lieberman won the Democratic Primary, he would coast to re-election and Republicans would not be a factor.
If you want a preview of coming events such as November, stay tuned to Connecticut in August. For some it may be a long hot summer.