Lieberman Launches “Cut & Run” Campaign

by Paul Bass | July 3, 2006 2:39 PM | | Comments (23)

In a sign that he fears for his political future, three-term U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman announced outside the state Capitol Monday that his reelection campaign will take out petitions to get his name on the November ballot as an independent — just in case challenger Ned Lamont beats him in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary. Lieberman’s brief announcement signalled both the spin he’ll use to try to limit the political fallout of the move, as well as the main tack he’ll use to try to blunt Lamont’s challenge.

Lieberman reiterated that he’s running as hard as he can to win the Democratic primary, the first time an incumbent Democratic senator has faced such a challenge in Connecticut in 36 years.

But as of Monday, his campaign will canvass voters to sign petitions to get him a place on the November ballot as an independent.

It was a striking symbol of how political tides have turned in Connecticut and of a downward trajectory in Lieberman’s own career. Just six years ago he was an international celebrity as Al Gore’s running mate in the presidential campaign. He ran for president in 2004, although he didn’t get far. He started this year far ahead of Lamont in the polls. Now a three-term incumbent is fighting for his life to retain his own party’s nomination.

In anticipation of today’s announcement, Lieberman’s online blog critics have already dubbed his quest the “Cut and Run 2006” campaign. If he loses the primary to Lamont, that move will ensure a wild three-way race beyond the ability of pundits and consultants to call, with Lamont running as a Democrat, Alan Schlesinger as a Republican and Lieberman as an independent.

Or as “an independent Democrat,” as he chose to portray his candidacy. Lieberman hesitated to announce this move until he decided he needed to, because it risks losing him votes in the Aug. 8 primary from Democrats angered over his willingness to bolt the party for his own political future.

Lieberman addressed that issue at the Capitol press conference, where he appeared alongside his wife Hadassah in front of a battery of youthful sign-holding backers who’d been ordered not to wear hats or sunglasses in the hot sun.

“I have been a proud, loyal and progressive Democrat since John F. Kennedy inspired my generation into public service,” claimed Lieberman, who has come under fire for siding with Republicans on the Iraq war, tax policy, civil liberties, the right to question the president, health care, the recently passed energy bill, and the nominations of right-wing presidential appointees like Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and Supreme Court nominees John Robers and Samuel Alito. “I will stay a Democrat.”

Lieberman said he informed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday morning that if elected as an independent, he remain part of the Democratic Caucus and consider himself a party member.

So why bolt?

Lieberman noted that if 30 percent of Democrats vote in the primary — the highest expected by analysts, especially in the midst of summer — the primary winner will need only about 105,001 votes. That’s about 5 percent of the state’s 2 million voters. Independents are by far the state’s largest voting bloc.

“I want the opportunity to put my case before all the people of Connecticut in November. They after all have the voters who have been good enough to elect me to the Senate,” he said.

“This will be a competitive election. Once I decided I wanted to give all the voters in the state” the “opportunity” to vote for him in November, Lieberman said, he decided to “do it quickly and early.”

“I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party,” he said. Namely: “My state and my country.

“This is an act of pride and purpose and commitment to the Democratic Party,” he said. If Lamont convinces Democrats to reject him in a primary based on the Iraq War, for which he has been the Democrats’ most prominent cheerleader, “my party is headed down the road that will not lead us to victory,” he said.

Lieberman used the appearance to try to define the Lamont campaign as a single-issue quest: the Iraq war. He asked voters to “respect” his stand in favor of the war and judge him on his whole record. The challenge for Lamont — represented by his latest TV commercial — is to define his candidacy as representing a set of issues, from health care to civil liberties to the environment, on which Lieberman has abandoned the Democratic Party.

Lamont was prepping for his Thursday evening debate with Lieberman when Lieberman’s press conference took place. Lamont parried Lieberman’s spin with his own at a 3:30 press conference outside his Meriden headquarters.

He offered a nuanced response to Lieberman’s depiction of the Lamont challenge as a one-issue antiwar campaign.

On the one hand, Lamont said, “The war is a big issue. It speaks volumes about what kind of a country we are.”

On the other hand, Lamont said his campaign focuses on a host of issues on which he and Lieberman disagree, citing the energy bill, school vouchers, and Alito’s Supreme Court nomination.

In contrast to Lieberman’s press appearance, Lamont’s took place in the shade of a tree. He sat at a picnic table and answered all the questions the press could think to ask. (Like Lieberman, he appeared alongside his wife.)

His low-key responses — no signs of passion or outrage at Lieberman’s decision — raised the question of how tough he’ll be as he enters the prime-time phase of this campaign. As a bonafide candidate with a real chance of winning, Lamont will need to convey a sense of toughness and strength. The debate Thursday will test whether he’ll be able to do that.

He did characterize Lieberman’s independent petitioning as in keeping with the senator’s stands on issues like school vouchers, social security, and the Supreme Court nominations of Alito and Clarence Thomas — as “hedging his bets.”

Lamont also responded to Lieberman’s argument that Lamont’s personal wealth (estimated at between $90 and $300 million) requires Lieberman to take extra steps to compete fairly. Lamont noted that Lieberman has had up to $7 million in the bank and far outspent the Lamont campaign. Lieberman has focused on the fact that Lamont has contributed $1.5 million to his own campaign, with the ability to contribute more.

“If he wants to cap spending, let’s go at it,” Lamont said, referring to a previous challenge to Lieberman to agree to a maximum each campaign would spend. He noted that Lieberman has raised millions from “corporate lobbyists.” Lamont added that “well over 10,000 people” have made small donations to his campaign.

“If he wants to run as a Democrat, run as a Democrat. Stop gaming the system,” Lamont said. “Over 18 years on a lot of issues, he has tried to have it both ways.”

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Posted by: Donna | July 3, 2006 3:01 PM

My response to Joe's announcement? Another donation (my fourth) to Ned. AND I called the New Haven office and signed up to donate my TIME as well. That's right, Joe, you've really inspired me--inspired me to do EVERYTHING in my power to end your political career.

I hope he gets is you-know-what handed to him in both August AND November.

Posted by: Chris | July 3, 2006 3:24 PM

The image is hillarious. I only hope that an ouster of Joe will not lead to an ouster of our senate seat. Not that he votes that much like a Democrat...

Posted by: Independent Majority | July 3, 2006 3:26 PM

Hummm.... If it is ok for a Republican liberal to turn into an independent, then it is ok for a Democratic conservative to do the same.

Wouldn't it be nice to have an entire PARTY of independents? ....the majority would finally be represented!

Posted by: T Mekwar | July 3, 2006 3:53 PM

Joe lieberman is GOP pawn disguesed as democrat, democrats in CT should stand up and show him the Door.

Posted by: TrueBlueCT | July 3, 2006 4:15 PM

Selfish Joe Lieberman is going to risk an otherwise safe Dem Senate Seat. He's also going to ruin many a Connecticut Dem's fall elections. Who will Joe campaign with in northwest CT? Challenger Chris Murphy-D? Or Nancy Johnson who he marched with in Waterbury for the Memorial Day parade.

Posted by: Nazgul35 | July 3, 2006 7:54 PM anyone going to ask those who were part of the Joe Lovefest a few months ago if they still support Joeboy?

Posted by: robn | July 3, 2006 10:49 PM

Sen Lieberman has consistently chosen to comprimise with a razor thin GOP majority. This is the same majority which has consistently squashed opposition views with an unprecendented number of razor thin majority votes. The GOP deserves no comprimise becasue it has no respect for it; all legislation has become a zero-sum game.
Take, for example, Sen Liebermans latest ads which claim to have "saved" submarine building in Connecticut. Frankly,it is very weak argument that the Senator saved anything. Connecticut has the worlds most technologically advanced naval bases. To have been bullied into submission and refelexive comprimise when one presides over highly valuable and irreplaceable facilities, is a sign of weakness, not strength. Time for a change folks.

Posted by: Jacki Fitzpatrick | July 4, 2006 8:45 AM

Joe lost my vote when he kept his name on the ballot for Senator while running for Vice President. He was so afraid of losing and having to leave D.C. that he ran for 2 jobs at once. Make up your mind, Joe! Which are you running for? I don't want a waffler as a Senator. I didn't want him as a VP, either.

Posted by: George | July 4, 2006 8:50 AM

I do not live in Connecticut, but do the residents of the state know that their senator has received $10,000 from a zealot ultra-right PAC in Miami. Is this the type of person that you want representing you in the U.S. Senate?

Posted by: Harriet | July 4, 2006 10:36 AM

Well, Joe, I hate to tell you, but you’re no “Rocky� and I’m afraid you’re going to face defeat in November as well. Wait, there’s always Bush’s Supreme Court to the rescue! hmmm, Joe “hedging his bets� on Alito and Thomas -- it all makes sense now!

Posted by: big dave from queens | July 4, 2006 6:12 PM

If Joe Lieberman is a "progressive Democrat" then Cuella De Vil is Mary Poppins.

Posted by: big dave from queens | July 4, 2006 6:17 PM

In response to "independent majority."

If Joe Lieberman is the conservative you say he is, then why does he call himself a "progressive democrat?" Somebody isn't telling the truth.

Then again, this is the same Joe Lieberman who calls a 5th place primary finish a "3 way photo finish for 3rd" and the same Joe Lieberman who a few weeks earlier said Democrats should unite and support the primary winner and the same Joe Lieberman whose views in 1989 differed than in 1988, then changed again in 1994 only to change again in 1995 and then changed overnight when Gore picked him only to change again in 2002 only to change again and again in 2006 depending on whether he's talking to Sean Hannity or CT voters.

Joe will lose because he has no integrity not because of whatever label he bestows upon himself.

Posted by: Summer | July 4, 2006 6:33 PM

I can't get past the big kiss between Bush and Lieberman. Even if I could there would be his tricky votes against the middle class programs.

Posted by: progressaurus rex | July 4, 2006 10:42 PM

what more can be said?
joe isn't from the democratic party.
joe isn't really from the republican party either.
his actions seem to prove only one thing -- joe's loyalty is to the lieberman party!

and "independent majority", i, for one, am not here to say it's not ok for him to run as an independent, except he is claiming to be a democrat and yet refuses to support lamont, a fellow democrat, if he loses to him in the primary.

the fact is that he's staying in the democratic primary. if he truly intends to run as an independent, he should drop out of the democratic primary, shouldn't he?

he's saying, "i expect you to support me, but i refuse to support you."

he's trying to have it both ways. he's not running to serve the people of connecticut, he's running to serve himself. that's the real face of joe. ugly, ain't it?

Posted by: Ron Russell | July 5, 2006 12:29 AM

To understand Joe, take a look at his 2006, Contributors:

You'll see such names as Big Pharma, Big Defense, Big Banking, Big Insurance, Big beneficiaries of any potential privatization of Social Security. The list is over 340 Pac interests. Joe talks about Ned's money? Give me a break! Someone should clue Joe into the fact that he's become little more than a GOP Whore. Oops, my bad...I shouldn't insult hard working Prostitutes by comparing them to Joe'nertia.

Posted by: Jim | July 5, 2006 12:58 AM

Give'm hell Joe and lets show all these left wing nuts that they are and will always be the minority. This announement ensures a Lamont defeat in November and I can't be happier. This is a victory for all the mainstream Demorats still left int the party.

Posted by: cv | July 5, 2006 1:20 PM

Excellent Reportage, Paul.
We are going to retire NoMoJoe this August. He has been misRepresenting us for years now.
Just because Ned Lamont doesn't rant and rave, doesn't mean he isn't tough or lacks passion.(not sure what passion has to do with governance, but uh..) We've had maybe too much hype and bluster, time for some clear-eyed, purposeful leadership, thank you very much.

Posted by: Diane | July 6, 2006 12:39 AM

I am supporting Lamont's campaign from Maryland. That's how important it is to get "Republican-lite, Democrat-fake" politicians like Lieberman OUT this November!! C'mon Connecticut Dems - show the rest of us how it's done!!

Posted by: Jonathan Burack | July 8, 2006 11:12 PM

Joe will have the last laugh on all of you. As an independent, he will get Republicans, centrist Democrats, just about everyone except you guys -- that is, just about everyone. The Democrats will lose another Senate seat. The Party willt take one more step away from Truman, JFK, FDR, Scoop Jackson, Daniel Patrick Monyihan, just about every other Democrat likely to last as worthy of note in the history books. And all the while, it will also be good for Israel, thereby fueling up the wingnut cracker Protocols of the Elders of Zion types (like Cindy Sheehan) who have migrated in droves into your camp. You are welcome to them.

Posted by: LJK | July 16, 2006 1:46 PM

Lamont's support runs deep and wide in Connecticut and Ned's volunteers are not paid hacks, but true Democrats fed up with the sanctimonious betrayal of "me-first" Lieberman. I've attended several neighborhood Lamont meetings and I can assure the pundits that it's not a one-issue campaign. People are tired of GOP-lite representing them by holding a Democrat seat. Haven't received one call or piece of mail from Lieberman as a registered Dem, but am being contacted almost daily by the professionals at Lamont's camp. They are doing a great job and Joe, it seems, will indeed go.

Posted by: Jean Keller | August 9, 2006 7:26 PM

Though I am from Wisconsin, I sincerely hope you will bring back the platform we had for years.I've been a democrat for 50 years but could no longer support this new, horrible wing (I call it a branch) of what now is a skeleton of the orignal democrat party. I left the party and voted republican because of their are an epitome of those values with good common sense. Something the democratic party is severely lacking. These are dangerous times and this new"branch" of the party has divided the country. Where can I send a donation to you as an independent? Thank you and we (my husband and I)wish you the very best....we are rooting for you.!

Posted by: Jean Keller | August 9, 2006 7:28 PM

Though I am from Wisconsin, I sincerely hope you will bring back the platform we had for years.I've been a democrat for 50 years but could no longer support this new, horrible wing (I call it a branch) of what now is a skeleton of the orignal democrat party. I left the party and voted republican because of their are an epitome of those values with good common sense. Something the democratic party is severely lacking. These are dangerous times and this new"branch" of the party has divided the country. Where can I send a donation to you as an independent? Thank you and we (my husband and I)wish you the very best....we are rooting for you.!

Posted by: carol taylor evans | August 11, 2006 7:08 PM

It's just time for fickle Joe to go. when he was running for Vice President he wanted to hold on to his seat. just in case he didnt win. it should tell us Joe was never a Democrat, he's what you would call switch a roo. he only cares about getting Joe in office. I really believe something is not right at home. why dont a man his age, that was defeated bow out. look at Malloy I could respect him. He took he like a man do. I give Mr. Malloy 100% thats a real man. not a KID.

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