- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Former President Bill Clinton will be campaigning in Connecticut today to support embattled Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who is trailing anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Clinton, a politically centrist soul mate of Mr. Lieberman on national-security issues, recently rebuked his party’s anti-war left wing for trying to defeat the three-term senator in the Aug. 8 primary — calling it the “nuttiest strategy I ever heard in my life.”

“I think the Democrats are making a mistake to go after each other,” Mr. Clinton said at a conference at the Aspen Institute earlier this month — urging his party not to “allow our differences over what to do now in Iraq … divide us instead of focusing on replacing Republicans.”

The former two-term president is still the most popular political figure in his party, and he is expected to draw a capacity crowd when he appears with Mr. Lieberman at a rally at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Conn., that will be attended by Democratic leaders from across the state, Lieberman campaign officials said.

Mr. Clinton was not the only Democratic leader chastising his party. Leon Panetta, Mr. Clinton’s White House chief of staff and a former California congressman, also took anti-war Democrats to task for going after the senator.

“The late Congressman Mo Udall used to say that when Democrats form a firing squad, they tend to form it in a circle and end up shooting each other,” Mr. Panetta said. “Joe Lieberman votes his conscience. I don’t think he should be penalized for that.”

Under heavy fire from his party’s left for supporting the war in Iraq, Mr. Lieberman is trailing Mr. Lamont, a political neophyte, who now leads him in the nominating contest by 51 percent to 47 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll.

Mr. Lamont — who is backed by an army of left-wing activists, bloggers and Internet groups, such as MoveOn.org — had been gaining ground in recent months. Most Democratic state officials, however, think Mr. Lieberman — the party’s one-time vice presidential nominee, who won a third Senate term in 2000 with 63 percent of the vote — would survive this latest challenge.

Then came last week’s poll that stunned Lieberman supporters and raised the possibility that the Democrats’ resurgent liberal wing could win its first major election upset in the increasingly bitter internecine intraparty feud over Iraq.

“My take is, Lamont’s message is getting through. He’s tapping into an emotional issue, the war in Iraq, he has been getting a lot of media coverage since our last poll in June, and that has overcome what had been his main problem, lack of name recognition,” said Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac poll.

But Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Lieberman “is still strong among Republicans and independents, and that’s why he wins in a three-way race if he runs as an independent in the general election.”

“In that situation, Lieberman polls 51 percent to 27 percent over Ned Lamont among registered voters in the general election, with Republican state Senator Alan Schlesinger at 9 percent,” he said.

However, a recent poll by the Rasmussen Group showed that Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Lamont neck and neck in a hypothetical three-way November race.

Mr. Lieberman has begun collecting the signatures needed to put his name on the ballot as an independent candidate in the general election if he loses the primary.

But Lieberman campaign strategists said Friday that bad news from pollsters has energized his supporters, who have mounted what a senior aide described as a general election-style turnout operation to win the primary.

“I’m convinced that people are going to show up in record numbers,” said Marion Steinfels, the campaign’s communications director, “and the more Democrats who turn out at the polls on primary day, the better it is for Joe Lieberman.”

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