Joe Still Mum On Indy Run

by Paul Bass | May 22, 2006 4:23 PM | | Comments (4)

U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman emerged Monday to discuss his disappointing showing in the state Democratic Party convention. “I’m ready for this fight,” he declared — then continued to leave open the possibility of ditching the Democrats if he loses a party primary.

Lieberman met reporters at his Rocky Hill reelection campaign headquarters. It was his first press conference since last Friday’s state convention, where challenger Ned Lamont forced an Aug. 8 primary against the three-term senator by winning 33 percent of the delegates, more than twice the number needed. Lieberman critics and supporters (at least privately) alike saw Lamont’s performance as a stunning rebuke and a symbol that Lieberman is in more trouble than he may realize. No sitting Democratic senator has faced a primary in Connecticut in 36 years.

On Monday, Lieberman offered a different interpretation of his convention showing: “I will take a two to one victory any day in any campaign.”

He added that some delegates privately told him they voted against him at the convention but will support him in August. They just wanted to send him a “message,” he claimed they told him. (His tongue-in-cheek response: They should have just “sent an e-mail.”) Lamont supporters, on the other hand, claim that delegates told them that they voted for Lieberman at the convention under pressure from party leaders but would pull the Lamont lever in the primary.

Nor did Lieberman share the popular characterization of the 33 percent vote as revealing widespread or meaningful opposition to him.

“The voice of Connecticut I hear is a voice of concern about the future and a voice of anger at the federal government. People are really worried about their jobs and retirement security,” about the cost of health insurance and gasoline, he said.

Asked why so many party delegates were willing to abandon him, Lieberman offered as his first explanation “personal” reasons. He described one delegate who complained Lieberman hadn’t visited his town committee. Lieberman proceeded to remind the delegate that he’d visited the town itself, the mayor, the stores, the local diner. So, Lieberman concluded, “I plead guilty” to the complaint — i.e., it didn’t mean much.

He then did acknowledge that “part of it [the opposition] was they wanted me to hear their position on the war.” But he added that he’s confident that people respect his sincere position supporting the Iraq war as a “matter of principle” and that they otherwise agree with him.

He didn’t cite as factors a host of other issues that have figured prominently in Lamont’s campaign such as universal health care, Lieberman’s vote for the Bush-Cheney energy bill, his vote for U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, or gay marriage.

“I begin this campaign with confidence,” Lieberman declared. “I think I know the minds and hearts of the people of Connecticut.”

Lieberman did betray one hint that he may not feel as confident as he claimed: He ducked a question about whether he’d support the winner of the Democratic primary rather than run as an independent in the general election.

“I’m going to be the winner of the primary,” Lieberman weaved, “so I will support the winner.”

The independent candidacy question poses a dilemma for Lieberman. He can’t wait until the primary ends to decide whether to run as an independent in November, because that would leave him no time to collect the necessary signatures to make the ballot. But if he declares he will run as an independent, he risks losing crucial votes from the party faithful in the Democratic primary.

Another hint of Lieberman’s concern: He distanced himself Monday from Bush at every opportunity. He spoke of Bush’s “immoral” environmental policies, on issues ranging from global warming to the quest for energy independence. He made no mention of his Wall Street Journal article criticizing war critics for failing to stand behind the president on the Iraq war. No mention of the infamous “kiss” Bush gave him. The Lamont campaign has tagged Lieberman as Bush’s “favorite senator.”

He also got a taste Monday of the questions he’ll face throughout the summer. The Courant’s Mark Pazniokas pushed Lieberman on why he voted against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination yet cast a crucial vote to close debate and therefore avoid a filibuster. Lieberman responded that he didn’t feel Alito’s record was “extreme enough” to justify a filibuster.

Lieberman called for politics that rises above partisanship and personal attacks. Then he took a swipe at Lamont’s personal wealth, accusing him of trying to buy a Senate seat. The Lamont campaign estimates his wealth at between $90 million and $300 million. Lieberman joked about how not too many other people in Connecticut “don’t know if they’re worth $90 million or $300 million” and said Lamont could probably buy more than one seat in the Senate with that kind of money.

The Lamont campaign has responded that Lieberman is outraising and spending them by 3 to 1 thanks to corporate contributors.

“Ned’s not going to have to go to the Senate to become a millionaire,” Lamont campaign manager Tom Swan said later Monday. “His wife’s not going to have to become a lobbyist. His kids aren’t going to be on the payroll.”

At the Rocky Hill press conference, Lieberman, who’s been battered by bloggers steering thousands of volunteers and small contributors to the Lamont campaign, said he still doesn’t read the blogs. People do pass him some examples from the blogosphere; he hasn’t been impressed.

“Blogs — just as I think the internet — is one of the most exciting occurrences in our time. These exchanges are a thrilling opportunity,” Lieberman said. “Like everything else, it depends on how they’re used…. Some of the stuff I have seen on both the left and right is very extreme and divisive. But that’s their right. That’s America.”

Then the senator cut questions short. He shook hands with staffers and left the room abruptly. No schmoozing with reporters, no deviations from script. Somehow it didn’t feel like the exit of a frontrunner circa 2006.

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Posted by: Schwag of Tulsa | May 22, 2006 9:55 PM

Gosh, I almost feel sorry for Joementum.

Then I remember that he's helping Bush flush this country down the toilet.

He's reaping what he sowed. He's disconnected and wrong-headed. Throw the bum out.

Posted by: TrueBlueCT | May 23, 2006 1:02 AM

Lieberman never was one of us. He won his Senate seat by running to the right of Weicker, and by enlisting the aid of William Buckley, who could best be described as the 60's generation's Rush Limabaugh.

Joe is so out of touch, --He still thinks a McCain/Lieberman "unity" ticket is in the cards for 2008.

Posted by: Ned Pocengal | May 23, 2006 8:31 AM

I never could stand "holy" Joe. Smug, sanctimonious, morally bloated and a war monger too. He's willing to spend billions to torture and kill people in Iraq to enrich his corporate buddies and drag this country into the sewer along with his pal Bush.

Posted by: Mary | May 25, 2006 3:45 PM

Count me in. I've been railing against this charlatan for the past 5 years and what kills me is that I worked on his first campaign. I detest his policies, his disconnectedness and of course, his whine. Now it's time for him to pay the faith lies in us, the grassroots. What in the world is Sean Hannity going to do now!

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