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Connecticut results mean little for national direction

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Liberal anti-war voters and bloggers angry about Iraq widely claimed victory yesterday after the defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary, but the state is unpredictable and not indicative of the rest of the country.

"Connecticut is far from a bellwether state," said Donald Green, a Yale political science professor. "And a Democratic primary in Connecticut is far from representing Connecticut."

Polls done before and after Tuesday showed that nearly 80 percent of the primary election voters oppose the war. That sentiment allowed Ned Lamont to transform from no-name candidate to national darling of the anti-war crowd and beat the hawkish three-term incumbent.

Lamont voters, dubbed "latte liberals" by some, were educated and wealthy. Men favored him over Mr. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

Voters said Mr. Lieberman's support of President Bush and the war was the biggest factor in choosing his opponent, and many Lamont voters said they were casting a vote "against Lieberman," according to polls.

Despite a new CNN poll showing that 60 percent of the nation now opposes the war, others argue that Connecticut is a unique state that has voted blue, red and purple depending on the issue and the office at stake.

"The lesson is not something you can stretch too far beyond Connecticut. All politics really is local," said Scott McLean, chairman of the political science department at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Historically, Connecticut voters have been finicky in who they've backed. Mr. Green calls his state "wobbly," noting its habit of nominating Democrats who go on to lose statewide office.

The state has chosen Democrats in presidential elections since 1992, but had backed the Republican in all White House contests since 1972. Its governor and three of its five House representatives are Republicans, but Democrats control its state legislature. The last governor was a Republican, and before that, third-party candidate Lowell P. Weicker Jr. was the state's chief executive.

Mr. Bush's approval rating in Connecticut is one of the lowest in the nation -- 27 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll taken in late July.

The state had 699,502 registered Democrats, 453,715 Republicans and 929,005 independents as of Jan. 1, according to the secretary of the state's office. No polls or registration data were available to detail voter age, but, anecdotally, political observers said younger citizens were registering in droves and preferred Mr. Lamont.

According to the secretary of the state, about 280,000 voters turned out Tuesday, setting a state record of 43 percent of registered Democrats voting in the primary.

Also of note, more than 32,000 new voters registered from May 1 through Monday. Of those, 14,500 were Democrats. There were more than 14,300 independent voters who changed their affiliation to Democratic, said Dan Tapper, a spokesman for the secretary of the state for Connecticut, noting the figure is an "unprecedented jump."

Both political parties scrambled yesterday to spin Mr. Lieberman's loss to their favor.

Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said the primary sends a message that voters are rejecting Mr. Bush and desire change.

"Voters in Connecticut and across the nation are seeking a new direction to make America safer, our economy stronger and to broaden opportunity for all," Mrs. Pelosi said.

Republicans, meanwhile, said the results show what path the Democrat Party is following.

The Lamont victory "is also a sign of what the Democratic Party has become in the 21st century. It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and a 'blame America first' attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a Cleveland speech yesterday.

He also said that the defeat of Mr. Lieberman, who says he will run as an independent in November to try to hang on to his Senate seat, proves that Democrats who reject the party line on the war "risk being purged."

But Mr. McLean said Republicans must also learn from the results.

"Any politician in either party who has been very vocal in their support of the war and not very aggressive in their criticism of the administration is going to face some challenge," he said.

Mr. Green said the anti-war bloggers and political action committees such as that of MoveOn.org have the momentum and might carry that through November congressional midterm elections.

"They have shown they can mobilize money and activists in a very short amount of time and that they have a capacity to deliver a substantive political bloc," he said. "Whether it is decisive remains to be seen."

Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, told supporters in an e-mail yesterday that his group represents "people-powered politics" that "proved the pundits wrong."

"It's been a long six years, but things are beginning to change," he said. "Our nation is waking up from the long nightmare of the Bush presidency."