- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn. — Democrats rallied yesterday around primary winner Ned Lamont whose anti-war campaign brought down incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who filed yesterday to run as an independent.

“Our well-informed and highly educated electorate has once again proved themselves by nominating Ned Lamont to be the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate,” state party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said with finality yesterday at a “unity rally” with most of the state primary’s winners and losers standing behind her.

Although Democrats here and across the country endorsed Mr. Lamont yesterday, few were willing to try personally to persuade Mr. Lieberman to abandon the independent campaign he began after his loss Tuesday in the primary.

“He’s made up his mind,” Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, the state’s senior Democratic senator, said yesterday. “If Joe wants to talk about it, I’ll be glad to talk to him about it. He knows where I am.”

When asked at the rally whether any of the state’s Democratic leaders would personally urge Mr. Lieberman to step aside, only one hand went up — tentatively. It was Mr. Lamont’s.

Democrats worry that Mr. Lieberman’s independent candidacy — which is considered formidable because of his name recognition and historical ability to appeal to Republican and independent voters — could split left-leaning support and give Republican Alan Schlesinger a chance at victory.

Also, Democrats worry that it will cause friction inside the party, which yesterday’s unity rally was designed to stem.

But Mr. Lamont yesterday said he would win anyway.

“He’ll end up splitting the Republican vote,” he told CNN about Mr. Lieberman. “He gets a lot more support from Republicans than he does from Democrats.”

Mr. Lieberman, who has served as a Democratic senator from this state for 18 years and held other statewide offices for eight years before that, steered clear of the gathering.

Even before the late-morning rally began at the state party headquarters, Mr. Lieberman had filed papers with the secretary of state to run as an independent. Although he has defiantly promised to avenge what he called a distorted primary campaign against him, he faces incredible pressure both locally and nationally to step out of the race.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, said in a joint statement yesterday that Democrats in Connecticut “have spoken” and that Mr. Lamont is the party’s nominee.

“Joe Lieberman has been an effective Democratic senator for Connecticut and for America,” they said. “But the perception was that he was too close to George Bush and this election was, in many respects, a referendum on the president more than anything else.”

Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York all pledged their support for Mr. Lamont yesterday, although none explicitly called for Mr. Lieberman to step aside.

Mrs. Clinton came closest, saying Mr. Lieberman should “search his conscience and decide what is best for Connecticut and for the Democratic Party.”

Liberal activists and bloggers — who fueled Mr. Lamont’s campaign early on and drew national attention to the race — were gloating yesterday not only over their own success but also over the defeat of someone they accused of straying too far into the Republican camp.

“Let the resounding defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman send a cold shiver down the spine of every Democrat who supported the invasion of Iraq and who continues to support, in any way, this senseless, immoral, unwinnable war,” anti-war moviemaker Michael Moore told supporters yesterday.

Although Democrats tried putting the best spin yesterday on the leftward lurch of their party, signs of strain were already evident.

“Nearly every Democrat set to run for president in 2008 is responsible for this war,” Mr. Moore fumed. “Lieberman and company made a colossal mistake — and we are going to make sure they pay for that mistake. Payback time started last night.”

From the sidelines, Republicans watched as Democrats surveyed their party’s internal damage. In a speech yesterday in Ohio, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman called it a “sobering moment.”

“Like the proud history of so many Democrats before him, Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defense,” he said. “For that, he was purged from his party.”

Vice President Dick Cheney also joined his voice to the Republican chorus, saying that “when we see the Democratic Party reject one of its own — a man they selected to be their vice-presidential nominee just a few short years ago — that would seem to say a lot about the state the party’s in today,” a state he called “a pre-9/11 mind-set.”

But as of last night, Mr. Lieberman was showing no signs of backing down. He announced a complete reshuffling of his campaign from its manager on down. But he was quick to add that he blames only himself for his primary loss.

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