- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Anti-war candidate Ned Lamont is gaining on Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in a tightening Democratic primary that threatens to deny the former vice presidential candidate his party’s nomination for a fourth term.

Mr. Lieberman, whose unwavering support for President Bush’s war policies in Iraq has turned many of his once-loyal Democratic supporters against him, has seen his nearly 20 percentage point lead over Mr. Lamont in early May slide to 15 points last month, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

“He’s in a lot trouble. He certainly can still win, but he is definitely in a big fight,” said Jennifer Duffy, Senate elections analyst at the Cook Political Report.

Although Mr. Lieberman thinks he will survive the nominating challenge from his party’s left, he isn’t taking any chances. He announced Monday that if the wealthy cable-television executive defeats him in the Aug. 8 primary, he will mount an independent campaign in November to retain his seat. But he assured Connecticut voters he “will stay a Democrat, whether I am the Democratic Party’s nominee or a petitioning Democratic candidate on the November ballot.”

He will need to collect and file 7,500 signatures by Aug. 9, and party insiders said the senator would begin that process within the coming days.

Among those fueling Mr. Lamont’s candidacy, besides disgruntled rank-and-file Democrats who think the senator has been too cozy with Republicans and with Mr. Bush, is an army of left-wing, anti-war bloggers led by DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas and the liberal activist organization MoveOn.org.

Opposition to the Iraq war is intense in the heavily Democratic state. A June 8 Quinnipiac poll showed that Connecticut voters overwhelmingly disapproved of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war by 73 percent to 23 percent, with 63 percent saying that going to war was a mistake.

Making matters more difficult for the senator is the timing of the state’s rare Aug. 8 primary when a low Democratic turnout in the summer doldrums could make it easier for more motivated anti-war activists to score an upset, political analysts said.

Mr. Lieberman, who is campaigning on his seniority to get things done for Connecticut, while fiercely defending his support for the war, remains personally popular in the state, just as much with Democrats and independents — and with many Republicans who like his more conservative political style.

The Quinnipiac poll said that, overall, most voters approved of the job he was doing by 56 percent to 32 percent, but among Democrats his approval margin was narrower — 49 percent to 38 percent. Still, Democrats by 56 percent to 34 percent said that Mr. Lieberman deserves to be re-elected, although among those who said they would not vote for him, 20 percent said it was because of his support for the war.

The same poll showed Mr. Lieberman leading Republican challenger Alan Schlesinger 68 percent to 14 percent, while Mr. Lamont held a slimmer 17 percentage-point lead against the Republican. State Democratic leaders acknowledge that the war divides their party, but some said they think the senator would win next month’s contest.

“The polls obviously show the senator is clearly the front-runner. I expect him to win this primary,” said state Democratic Chairman Nancy DiNardo. “There are Democrats who are unhappy with his position on the war, but they recognize the importance of incumbency and seniority and that this is not a one-issue campaign.”

When Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, the state’s senior Democratic senator, was asked Friday whether he would remain neutral in the primary, he sent out a terse one sentence statement that said, “I support the Democratic nominee, who I fully expect to be Joe Lieberman.”