New Haven Register
June 18, 2006
Challenge to Lieberman could hurt all Democrats
By Lawrence J. Haas
Enraged that U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman supports the war in Iraq, insurgent
Democrats who are fueling Ned Lamont’s primary challenge to Lieberman have
tightened the gap with the incumbent. They may feel good about it but, in
fact, they are threatening not just the Democrats’ hold on that seat but
also the national party’s growing chance of retaking control of the Senate.
The insurgent strategy suffers from two major flaws. First, in potentially
putting a safe Democratic seat in play for Republicans, it is
extraordinarily short-sighted. Second, it rests on a faulty premise about
Lieberman’s record in adhering to core Democratic principles in his voting
and his advocacy.
The strategy contrasts sharply with how Pennsylvania Democrats are treating
a similar situation. There, Democrats rallied around state Treasurer Bob
Casey in his quest to unseat Republican Rick Santorum, the incumbent U.S.
Senator — even though Casey’s pro-life position on abortion puts him on the
wrong side of a core Democratic issue.
Last month, Pennsylvania’s Democrats gave Casey a landslide victory over two
primary opponents, unifying the party behind an effort to beat Santorum, the
third highest-ranking Senate Republican. These Democrats concluded —
correctly — that the upside of beating the incumbent in November far
outweighs the downside of running with a pro-life candidate.
After all, nothing would improve the political power of Democrats more this
year than winning control of the Senate, putting them in position to block
Republican efforts to further pursue their hard-core agenda. With control of
the Senate and, with that, all of its committees, Democrats would be able to
investigate the Bush administration’s alleged malfeasance, conduct serious
oversight of the administration’s ongoing activities and keep dangerous
proposals from becoming law or even coming to a vote on the Senate floor.
Charlie Cook, Washington’s savviest political prognosticator, has given
Democrats a shot at retaking the Senate if they defeat all of the most
vulnerable Republican incumbents and win an open seat in Tennessee. But that
prediction presumes Lieberman wins his primary — and then wins re-election,
as he surely would.
A Lamont victory, however, would give Republicans a shot at the seat in
November. If a Republican won it, Democrats could kiss goodbye the
possibility of a Democrat-controlled Senate.
And for what? Other than on the war, Lieberman has always marched in
lock-step with Democrats.
Surveying Senate votes last year, Congressional Quarterly found that
Lieberman stuck with his party 90 percent of the time. The Democratic
leader, Nevada’s Harry Reid, stood at 92 percent, and Connecticut’s Chris
Dodd was at 94 percent. Lieberman’s party-unity rating well outpaced those
of such Democrats as Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (76), North Dakota’s Kent
Conrad (76), Montana’s Max Baucus (74), and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson (46).
The state’s Democratic political establishment continues to stand strongly
Core left-leaning groups continue to see him as a reliable friend. The
League of Conservation Voters, Washington’s most politically aggressive
environmental group, endorsed his re-election, citing his national role in
thwarting Republican efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to
drilling and his effort to protect Connecticut’s environment.
Among organized labor, Lieberman has won endorsements from unions of
carpenters, bricklayers, letter carriers and other postal workers,
communications workers, electricians, firefighters, hotel and restaurant
workers and Teamsters. Also endorsing him are women’s and gay and lesbian
The fact is, from fiscal policy to the environment to the bread-and-butter
issues that affect working families, Lieberman is a tried and true Democrat.
His support for the war hardly merits an inter-party insurgency that could
threaten Democrat control of that seat and the entire Senate.
Nearly two hundred years ago, Henry Clay declared that he’d "rather be right
than be President." Stubborn to the point of obstinacy, he never reached the
Oval Office and, in turn, never could bring his vision to the nation at
Will Connecticut’s Democrats take the posture of Henry Clay, declaring that
they would "rather be right" on the war and insist that everyone else must
be as well — even to the point of jeopardizing their hold on the Senate
If so, they better be prepared for the potential consequences — a new
Republican Senator who votes with President Bush on not just the war but
everything else, and a Senate that remains in Republican hands and continues
to pursue an agenda that Democrats find so toxic.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore
and former director of public affairs at Yale University, is visiting senior
fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University,
3333 K St., NW, Suite 112, Washington, DC 20007. His e-mail address is