Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lieberman: Show's over. Go home!

Firstly, it turned out more or less how I figured, except that I thought Lamont would have won by a wider margin. Lieberman lost by a 52-48 vote, and that means that the Democrats are moving to coalesce around Lamont. Most of them, anyway. Prominent Democrats who endorsed and even campaigned for Joe Lieberman have been coming forth to endorse Lamont—if they're saying anything at all, that is. Senator Chris Dodd, Lieberman's fellow Connecticut Democrat in the Senate, was a backer/campaigner for Lieberman, but has now come out and said that although he's not happy about the outcome of last Tuesday's primary, he feels Democrats should endorse the candidate the Democratic Party has endorsed, and has dropped Lieberman like stale challah.

Other Democrats, while not enthusiastically standing with Lieberman, aren't cheering for Lamont, either... not yet, anyway. Notably, Senator Hillary Clinton of neighboring New York has remained quiet. Quiet, too, are Senators Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Evan Bayh (D-Indiana,) who actually campaigned for Lieberman in Connecticut last week—not to mention former President Clinton, who has yet to comment on Mr. Lamont's candidacy.

It's interesting to see Biden, Bayh and H. Clinton, all of whom are probable 2008 presidential contenders, throwing their lot in with Lieberman so closely. I suppose they have to: those three senators, like Lieberman, all voted for and backed Bush's attack on Iraq in 2002, and don't like giving traction to the idea that voters would reject a candidate who did. Neither of these senators has anything to worry about where their respective seats are concerned, but the downfall of Lieberman would be a bad harbinger for their 2008 presidential campaigns. Dodd, it's worth noting, has also made noises about running for president in 2008, like he did in 2004, but he's a third-tier candidate, at best, and he voted against the attack on Iraq in 2002. Dodd, by supporting Lieberman in the primary and then sticking with the outcome of his party's primary, is obviously looking to grab some national attention, which is probably a good idea. If Dodd can't land a spot on the presidential ticket, which he probably won't, he'd probably got a cabinet post under the next Democratic president in mind.

Though he refused to comment on it before the primary, after three terms in the Senate, this sore loserman has decided to file to run as an independent. The primary saw 45% of Connecticut's Democrats turn out, which is remarkably high for a primary race in any state. Many more voters than usual switched registration before the deadline to do so passed three months ago, and many Republicans tried to do so after the deadline passed. On the campaign trail, one such Republican voter told Senator Lieberman as much. Recounting that anecdote, Lieberman mused, "Those are my voters," which pretty much says it all.

Many are taking this as a repudiation of the Iraq War and Bush policy. Lieberman himself (and his supporters) are talking about it as if it were a sign that rabid partisanship has gotten out of control in this county (but he said never a word about it where President Bush is concerned, for some odd reason.) The conservative media are talking about it as a rise of the "radical left" in this country. On This Week this morning, George Will said that this is evocative of the rise of the McGovernites in 1972. This is appealing to people like Will, because the McGovernites staked everything on an anti-war (Vietnam War), socially liberal platform and lost 49 states and a net of eleven Congressional seats in so doing. Republicans are eager to paint this as evidence that Democrats are turning on each other. Also on the This Week program this morning, Senator John McCain made the outrageous claim that "Russ Feingold and Joe Lieberman are liberal Democrats." That's true of Feingold, but to call those two senators similar and to call Lieberman "liberal" is something that demands clarification on Mr. McCain's part, and which Mr. Stephanopoulos was derelict in demanding.

Republicans have a great interest in painting this as a split in the Democratic Party, largely because they've got so little to run on right now. Dividing and conquering is the best strategy the Republicans have in their bag of tricks, but with the Democratic Party more unified than it's been in decades right now, they're going to go for whatever they can get. Karl Rove contacted Senator Lieberman's office right after the primary, but what happened is debated. George Stephanopoulos reported earlier this week (according to NECN—New England Cable Network—News) that a leak admitted that Rove offered to help the Lieberman campaign. Lieberman's office has publicly stated that no such offer was made, and that the Lieberman campaign wouldn't accept one even if it had been. Whatever really happened, the Republican Party is drooling over this, and is no doubt eager to keep Lieberman in the race for as long as possible, if only to exploit the fissure in Connecticut and give them a "divided Democrats" story to run on nationwide. Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman has already spoken out loud and in favor of Lieberman's reëlection, and Vice President Cheney has stated that support of Ned Lamont is akin to throwing in the towel in the War [sic] On Terror.

I don't know if Lieberman's going to remain in the race for the next eighty-some days. He might very well do so, especially if his chances continue to look good. A poll revealed that about 80% of Lieberman's Democratic supporters wanted to stand with their candidate no matter what happened in the primary. Lieberman is probably hoping to rely on Republican turnout, but it's hard to say how many Connecticut Republicans would be enthusiastic about voting for a Democrat. Some will, sure, but will it be enough? Connecticut's independents will be fought over, and I haven't seen any statistics on which way they're likely to vote, so as far as I know, this is now a two-way race, and it's pretty much up in the air. Democratic nominee Ned Lamont is one of the major candidates and independent Democrat Joe Lieberman is the other major candidate. Yes, there's a Republican running, by the name of Alan Schlesinger, but he's not expected to break double digits in the votes he's going to get. However, Connecticut Republicans never really paid much attention to their party's nomination because it's been long assumed that Lieberman was going to win and head on to a blowout in November. Now that that hasn't happened, Republicans now realize that if they had a strong candidate, this could turn into a three-way race and make it possible for a Republican to win the seat. Lately there's been some talk of the 2004 Republican candidate against Chris Dodd, a conservative businessman by the name of Jack Orchulli, replacing Schlesinger on the ticket. Orchulli would be a stronger candidate, and might really have a shot, as long as Schlesinger quietly steps down. Will he? It's hard to say. Whether he does or not won't have any truck with whether prominent Republicans come out and endorse Joe Lieberman—I'm pretty sure they won't. But if you start hearing the name Jack Orchulli a lot, then watch out.

Personally, I think some of this has to do with a repudiation of Bush's Iraq fiasco. But it has more to do with a repudiation of Bush, whom Lieberman has been too cozy with, and a symptom of the anti-incumbent fever that many Republicans are fearing will cull their herd in 2006. Lieberman's "anti-partisan" rhetoric smacks of the Gingrichian pleas of 1994, when Republicans urged everyone to put aside partisanship, work together and replace as many Democrats with Republicans in government as possible. Lieberman is a day late and a dollar short, and he's coming across as King Equivocator with his warm overtures to George W. Bush. But Lieberman has a long history of equivocation, which is why many people are starting to view him as an opportunist, and quite rightly, I'd say. During the 2000 election, when Lieberman was nominated to be Al Gore's running mate, he still ran for his Senate seat in Connecticut—just in case—even though that would mean that if he became vice president, Republican Governor Rowland would have replaced him with a Republican Senator. During the 2000 recount, Lieberman made far too many concessions to the Bush camp, causing many to wonder just whose side Lieberman was on. Bush got behind Bush's war too enthusiastically in 2002 and stayed there, soaking up national attention, even when most Democratic opportunists had long since flown the coop. President Bush has left a long trail of corpses of Democrats who have made overtures to him and were then sacrificed for the good of the Republican Party. Why Lieberman continued to play with Bush fire like that, I'll never know. Either he's looking for national attention or he's just not that smart. He may well believe in the Iraq War, but if so, could he really be beyond criticizing a Republican president while at the same time criticizing his own party so freely?

With the Democratic establishment now behind Ned Lamont (however grudgingly,) Lieberman's going to have trouble raising funds. He may get more funds than usual from Republicans, but not *that* much more. This is not a year when you'll see Republicans donating much to any of their candidates; indeed, funds for Republican candidates have already come up drier than they did last year—and last year wasn't even an election year. Like his 2004 presidential run, Joe Lieberman will likely hang on well after it's obvious he doesn't have a prayer—that is, if he indeed doesn't have a prayer. He might. We'll have a better idea in another month or so, but Lieberman's probably going to stick around, come what may. Even if he does divide the Connecticut Democrats, how much enthusiasm could he generate among Connecticut Republicans? Unless he decided to switch parties (which won't happen,) I don't think very much at all. But it's not until after Labor Day that most Americans start paying attention to politics, so we'll have to wait awhile to see whether Lieberman's really going to make a statement or whether he's just wasting his time. The Democratic Party would probably like to see Lieberman go away, because without him, it would be easier to run a campaign critical of Bush's Iraq policy, since that's hard to do when you've got a strong advocate of it in your party, interrupting unity. And that's why Joe Lieberman is George W. Bush's favorite Democrat.

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