Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lieberman loss signals anti-war mood

Lieberman loss signals anti-war mood
By Holly Yeager in Hartford, Connecticut
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 9 2006 05:58 | Last updated: August 9 2006 23:55

The failure of Joseph Lieberman to win renomination to contest his Senate seat represented a sharp rebuke to supporters of the war in Iraq and a warning to all incumbents that US voters are in the mood for change.

Mr Lieberman, a three-term Democratic senator and former vice-presidential candidate, lost in his party’s primary on Tuesday to Ned Lamont, a wealthy cable television executive and political novice.

The result poses risks for Democrats. Mr Lamont made Mr Lieberman’s support for the war the primary issue in the Connecticut race, and Republicans rushed to paint his victory as proof that the Democrats are soft on national security.

“Like the proud history of so many Democrats before him, Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defence. And for that, he was purged from his party,” said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee. He said the vote reflected “an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and a ‘blame America first’ attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous”.

Mr Lieberman’s loss – a rare defeat of an incumbent in a party primary – had been anticipated by recent polls. But the final margin, 52-48 per cent, was closer than expected, encouraging Mr Lieberman to follow through with what he told supporters would be the “second half” of the race.

Mr Lieberman, a moderate with a record of working across party lines, filed petitions on Wednesday that would allow him to run in November’s election as an independent candidate, rejecting the calls of some Democrats who said such a move would hurt the party.

“I will respectfully say, ‘No, no, no’. I am in this race to the end.”

Party leaders stopped short of publicly calling for Mr Lieberman to step aside.

But they did endorse Mr Lamont. “I respect the decision of the voters and endorse the Democratic candidate, Ned Lamont, and look forward to working with him for a great congressional victory in Connecticut,” said Nancy Pelosi, the party leader in the House of Representatives.

Democrats said they were encouraged by the unusually high turnout in the race, a signal they said of how energised Democratic voters were, and how eager to unseat Republicans in the November midterm elections.

Mr Lamont’s upstart campaign was not based solely on the war.

He campaigned on a broad array of liberal issues, including education and universal healthcare and his effort was fuelled by long-simmering discontent with Mr Lieberman, who many state voters said had lost touch with the state as his national profile rose.

It also marked the greatest political victory yet for left-wing bloggers who embraced his candidacy and drew national attention, money and volunteers to the effort, eager to cement the role of the anti-war faction of the party ahead of the 2008 presidential contest.

During his victory celebration on Tuesday, Mr Lamont thanked the “netroots and grassroots” who had helped him, along with labour activists, civil rights leaders and others. “We’ve got a coalition for change – it’s starting in Connecticut and we’re going to take it beyond.”

The most powerful image of the campaign was what Mr Lamont’s supporters called “the kiss” – which President George W. Bush appeared to give Mr Lieberman after the 2005 State of the Union address. It was depicted on a papier-mache float that showed up at Mr Lieberman’s events and emblazoned on buttons.

After Bill Clinton campaigned for Mr Lieberman, his backers tried to highlight another image – “the hug” with the popular former president.

But as they assessed what had gone wrong for Mr Lieberman, his advisers said he had been too slow to respond to Mr Lamont’s complaints about his support for the war in Iraq: too little, too late.

Many of Mr Lieberman’s strongest supporters said they would stick with him for his independent run, shouting “Go, Joe, Go!”

Johnny DiDonato, a marketing executive at a frozen pasta company, said he disagreed with Mr Lieberman on the war. “But you can’t punish him for just one thing.”


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