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Lieberman's Future

Four commentators – Duby McDowell of the Laurel , Rick Green of the Hartford Courant , Brian Flaherty, a former Republican state representative, and Tom Dudchik of Capitol Report -- got together several days ago at Dennis House’s house, Face the State on WFSB, to review the old year and plot Sen. Joe Lieberman’s future.

Poor Joe’s future, all agreed, was dismal.

Pretty much all House’s guests thought Mr. Lieberman MIGHT defend his seat, the senator having teased several reporters and commentators that a run was not altogether out of the question. The consensus appeared to be that Mr. Lieberman would not be nominated by his party; apparently, Rep. Chris Murphy has stolen the party’s heart, and progressive Democrats are especially hot on him, while their reaction to Mr. Lieberman has been considerably cooler.

Ever since Mr. Lieberman lost to progressive heart throb Ned Lamont in a previous Democratic Party primary and soldiered on to defeat the Great Progressive Hope in a general election, the left wing of the party has been in a flutter against Mr. Lieberman, its more insistent members sharpening their stakes, grinding their teeth and challenging the deathless vampire to run once again for office on THEIR ground. Go ahead – just go ahead. You’ll see.

Mr. Lieberman has been toying with them, playfully. The danger is that may hoist them in their own petard.

If the senator, pushed out of his party by Mr. Lamont in a primary and forced to run in the general election as independent, CANNOT run for the nomination in his former party – there are only two open questions: 1) Will he run? He’s such a tease; and 2) If he runs in what then likely would be a three way race involving Lieberman the independent, Murphy the beloved and a Republican nominee -- possibly Linda McMahon, who does not seems to have had her fill of politics, or Rob Simmons or some other aspiring Republican -- would Mr. Lieberman win?

The answer to this question is: Nobody knows. Events have a way of overturning the best laid plans of mice and men. But then the whole point of predicting the future is to speculate, loudly and bravely, on matters the answers to which one cannot know.

Perhaps it might be useful to back up a second and ask a somewhat different question: Would Lieberman’s chances of winning the pending general election in a three way race be better or worse if he did or did not force a primary with Murphy the beloved? This, after all, is how Mr. Lieberman won the general election race against Mr. Lamont – by smashing in a primary the lockstep hold in a general election Mr. Lamont expected to have on the party that nominated him.

Just a second, progressives will remonstrate. Mr. Lieberman the Vampire won the general election because the Republican candidate was, shall we say, inadequate, and Mr. Lieberman the Vampire had built up within the Republican Party a residual affection after he had defeated, with the party’s help, former senator and self proclaimed “turd in the Republican Party punchbowl” Lowell Weicker. These circumstances are not repeatable. In addition, Mr. Lieberman the Vampire has further alienated himself from his party by canoodling with the enemy, throwing his support behind a Republican Party presidential nominee at a time when Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama enjoyed wide national popularity. To be sure, the bloom is off the popularity rose now; former President George Bush and President Obama are running fairly close in popularity polls., But to have support McCain then! And he kissed Bush too! And he’s a vampire!

To all this one may cheerfully nod assent. Even so, in a free country in which primaries have for decades undetermined nominating conventions, anyone with a ardent will and a little spare cash can primary party nominees. Before Mr. Lamont, at the urging of progressives, leapt upon the stage to challenge Mr. Lieberman in a primary, Mr. Lieberman WAS the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate. Both former President Bill Clinton and then U.S. Sen. Dodd stumped for their party nominee on the primary campaign trail.

And so the question remains: Would Mr. Lieberman’s chance in winning a general election in a three way race, assuming he would consent to run in a three way race, be improved if he chose to primary the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for the senate, Mr. Murphy?

The answer to that question is: Maybe. No one can be certain what tomorrow may bring. It seems only yesterday that former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd was a shoe in for re-election to the senate. And then a couple of shoes fell on his head. The only way to measure Mr. Lieberman’s strength or weakness within his own party many months out from today is to test his strength in a primary. And even then, the lay of the political land having changed, the probe may be telling – or not.


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