Sunday, August 06, 2006

Connecticut Senate: What Happens After Lieberman Loses?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While Connecticut’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary is still a few days away, the writing now appears to be on the wall: Sen. Joe Lieberman is going to fall to challenger Ned Lamont in the Tuesday, August 8th primary.

Both public and, more importantly, private polls show the Senator headed for a defeat that could range from small to embarrassingly decisive. So, if Lieberman pulls out a victory, he’ll have to thank divine intervention.

If Lamont wins, Lieberman will have to think long and hard about whether he’ll run as an Independent in the general election (assuming, of course, that he has gathered enough valid signatures to pursue that option).

A resounding Lamont victory would make it very difficult for Democratic elected officials (and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to stick with Lieberman in a three-way general election.

The primary result would create an entirely new dynamic in the race, undercutting Lieberman’s support for an Independent bid and putting pressure on him to exit the race gracefully. That doesn’t mean that the Senator couldn’t win a three-way race, only that early polls showing him with a commanding advantage in a three-way contest are meaningless.

Lamont’s general election numbers would immediately spike and Lieberman’s would drop, and the Senator’s prospects for victory in November would be uncertain.

Some Democrats fear that a three-way contest could encourage Republicans to find a way to force their nominee out of the race and replace him with a much more serious Senate candidate. But a Lamont victory would not seriously threaten the Democrats’ hold on that seat unless the Republicans were to find a stronger nominee.

Lamont’s victory, however, would not be without its downside for Democrats, since it would only embolden the crazies in the party, a consideration not lost on other Democratic elected officials and strategists.

Lieberman’s defeat is likely to add to the partisanship and bitterness that divides the country and Capitol Hill, and to generate more media attention to grassroots bomb-throwers who, down the road, are likely to make the party less appealing to swing voters and moderates.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 3, 2006.