Tonight, Sen. Joe Lieberman narrowly lost
the Democratic nomination to his Senate seat in Connecticut to Ned Lamont - about 52% to 48%. Lieberman is going to continue to run as an independent. While he might still win in November, it's going to be harder than it looks from here. He's going to get tremendous media scrutiny as a loser over the next couple weeks, and there will be pressure from other Democrats to withdraw. Every Democrat who plans to run for president in 2008 will endorse Lamont. Lieberman might still pull it off, but at this point he's definitely the underdog.
Might the Republicans sneak one through this time by splitting the Democrats between Lieberman and Lamont? Well, not to be cruel, but not with their current candidate. Alan Schlesinger will not be the next senator from Connecticut. Republicans may try and bump him off the ticket, maybe for someone like Rep. Chris Shays or Rep. Rob Simmons, both of whom may well lose re-election if they don't go. Or they may funnel money and media support to Lieberman. Or maybe both. But they really don't want Lamont to win, because Lamont won't be cozy with Bush and Fox News the way Lieberman is.
So what happened to Lieberman? Well, there are a number of things he did wrong and Lamont did right, but it can be summed up this way: Lieberman lost touch with Connecticut. Lieberman sees himself as a statesman, a forger of grand compromises. So he continually positions himself as a centrist on any issue that might get attention, like being wishy-washy on social security, and a foreign-policy hawk. On lower profile bread-and-butter issues, he's a fairly reliable progressive, which explains why most of the traditional Democratic interest groups supported Lieberman in the primary. But Connecticut is one of the most Democratic states in the nation. And right now, Connecticut voters don't want grand compromises. They want Republican electoral blood. Especially on the Iraq war. And Lieberman gave them every indication he didn't hear them.
Not only has he been strangely stubborn about admitting anything is going wrong in Iraq, but he wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal demanding Democrats fall in line behind President Bush because of the war (this might be the link
). To the ears of most Democrats who pay attention to politics, this sounded like Republican talking points being spouted by a Democrat in an outlet that is part of the Republican Noise Machine. Lieberman's active support for the Republican position in the Terri Schiavo case was also troubling to many Democrats. Connecticut voters are among the nation's most likely to support Democratic positions on these issues, and here's their senator, behaving like a Republican.
That's not to say there's no place in the party for a senator like Lieberman. There is: Nebraska. Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and he's perfectly suited for his home state. Though I don't particularly care for his issues, I'm aware that any Republican that replaces him is likely to be far far worse. And should Nelson fall in a Democratic primary, Republicans would surely take the seat. But Connecticut is a deep deep blue state that could support a much more progressive-minded Democrat than Lieberman. And it's trying to.
Personally, I like Lieberman. I like the way he talks -- his speaking style is very Jewish. And I respect his urge to compromise, even though I don't like some of the compromises he's chosen. But he's from the wrong state for his style, and that's just all there is.
Expect the results of this unusual night to act as a whip on the Democrats on the Iraq war, and on opposing President Bush more forcefully. It will probably throw them off message for a week or two though first.