Lieberman May Lose The Battle Today, But He’s Still Likely To Win The War

While it’s normally not a good idea to put the cart before the horse, let’s go ahead and assume that Joe Lieberman loses to Ned Lamont today in the Connecticut Democratic primary. Then, the question becomes: does Joe Lieberman go forward with an Independent bid? Here’s Ben Craw from the TPM Cafe discussing some of the speculation:

“Seriously, where will Joe Lieberman be tomorrow? The Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, preparing for an independent bid, or announcing his retirement from public service? What’s it gonna be?

Well we already know what Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) thinks. John Zogby over at Political Wire says: Iraq Will Undermine a Lieberman Indie Bid. According to Zogby it’s all about Iraq. No, seriously, it’s really all about Iraq. He writes more at Huffington Post.

Hotline says: “We’ve heard solidly conflicting information on whether Lieberman’s independent signature bid has been successful. Several sources who have spoken directly to those involved in the effort insist that the campaign is now sitting on the necessary signatures. But at least one person who has access to the upper echelons of Lieberman’s campaign insists that the opposite is true. Whatever the case, Democrats in Washington and Connecticut who have spoken with Lieberman and his top aides believe that unless the election tomorrow night is tantalizingly close (or Lieberman wins, obviously), he is far less inclined to mount an independent bid than he once was.”

Political Wire has video of a Fox News correspondent saying on air that Lieberman “is likely to go forward with his independent bid if he doesn’t win tomorrow.”

Dick Morris, who worked on Lamont’s failed 1990 state Senate run, believes that not only will Lieberman run as an independent, but he’ll ultimately be reelected Senator.”

Of course, you can never really know what’s in a politician’s heart. Could we see Joe Lieberman become so dispirited by losing that he just gives up? Maybe, but I tend to doubt it for several reasons.

First of all, if Lieberman had no intentions of running as an Independent, then it seems unlikely that he would have brought it up at all. No politician in a contested primary wants to appear disloyal to his party because it undoubtedly will cost him some votes. So, if Lieberman pulled the “Independent gun” out of the holster without ever intending to shoot, that was a big mistake.

Secondly, along similar lines, it’s hard to see Joe Lieberman staying out of the primary out of loyalty to the Democratic Party after the way he has been treated. He has had left-wing bloggers putting him in blackface and calling him “Rape Gurney” Joe. Al Gore, his former running mate didn’t endorse him. Moreover, Democratic Party heavies like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have actually campaigned against him. So, at this point it would seem to be a little late for anyone to give him a, “Joe, don’t run for the good of the party,” speech.

There’s something else important to consider: Joe Lieberman will still be the strongest candidate in the race by far even if he loses the primary — and keep in mind, you’re hearing that from a guy who has written a column about the futility of third party candidates.

The thing is: this is not a normal situation. In Connecticut, the Republican candidate in the race is a non-entity. At last glance, he was polling in single digits and dropping. Moreover, Joe is surprisingly popular with Republicans and Independents. So much so that he destroyed Ned Lamont in a general election poll conducted less than three weeks ago:

“Thirty percent of Connecticut voters are registered Democrats, 20% are Republicans and 50% independents. A July 20 Quinnipiac poll showed that if Lieberman were to run as an independent, he would get 51% of the vote to Lamont’s 27%. The Republican challenger, Alan Schlesinger, registered 9% in that poll.”

Let’s just do a little rough math: if Joe gets 75% of the GOP vote and the rest votes Libertarian or votes for Schlesinger, that’s 15% of the total vote. Then, if Joe wins 75% of the Independent vote, which certainly seems possible, that’s another 37% of the Connecticut electorate. Now, he’s up to 52% total. Then, let’s say Lamont beats him 3 to 1 among Democrats. That still gives Joe another 7 1/2% of the votes he needs to win. Now, he’s up to nearly 60% of the voters supporting him.

Will it work out exactly like that? Maybe not. But, there clearly is a way forward here for Joe that doesn’t exist for most people in his position.

Lieberman should still be able to raise money and if he doesn’t scare the Democrats too badly, by, for example, saying that he’ll vote for Republican control of Congress, Lamont’s money flow will probably start to dry up if he can’t quickly catch up to Joe in the polls.

Furthermore, in a situation like this, you’d normally expect Joe’s Democratic support to wilt down to nothing as all the Democrats rally around their nominee. However, since the Republicans don’t appear to be a threat this time and since Joe may be ahead, a lot of Democrats may just figure, “I like Joe better than Lamont and I can have Joe. So, why shouldn’t I vote for the candidate I like best?” That’s why seeing Joe Lieberman capture 20%-25% of the Democratic vote in the general election wouldn’t be a big surprise.

Of course, trying to appeal to Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all at the same time will be very difficult, so Joe will probably need to run fluffy, feel good ads, and/or go negative on Lamont, but there’s no reason why that isn’t doable.

Long story short, if Joe Lieberman doesn’t win the primary today, there will be a deafening roar from the left side of the blogosphere and endless column inches written about what it all means. However, when the dust settles, people will start to notice that Lieberman is still ahead of Lamont in the race that matters and will likely stay that way until he reaches the finish line in November, unless he decides to throw in the towel.

Update #1: From Drudge:

Connecticut // U.S. Senate – – Dem Primary
608 of 748 Precincts Reporting – 81.28%
Lamont, Ned 116,387 51.71% **Winner
Lieberman, Joe (i) 108,683 48.29%

Assuming that Joe stays in, Karl Rove couldn’t have planned it better himself. This will probably be an ugly, expensive brawl that will turn off Democratic moderates, hawks, and Jews — pit Democrat against Democrat — and humiliate the liberal netroots when Joe wins in the end. Ya gotta love it!

So, run Joe, run!

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