- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Democrats have become increasingly divided over whether to support Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who finds himself in a close senatorial primary race against a more liberal opponent.

Three leading Democrat senators — John Kerry of Massachusetts, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York — have said they will support Mr. Lieberman’s opponent, Ned Lamont, if he wins the Aug. 8 primary. Mrs. Clinton has endorsed Mr. Lieberman for the primary, but Mr. Kerry and Mr. Feingold have pointedly refused to do so.

“As a party, we are indeed obligated to honor the wishes of the Connecticut primary voters,” said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed the 2000 White House campaign of Mr. Lieberman and presidential candidate Al Gore. “While I personally respect Senator Lieberman and support his candidacy, I will stand by the eventual nominee.”

The split of support for Mr. Lieberman among Democrats centers on a battle for the party’s national identity. Mr. Lieberman has been a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, which has drawn the ire of many liberal bloggers.

“The most radical fringe is running the show,” said National Republican Senatorial Campaign spokesman Brian Nick. “Hillary Clinton and John Kerry want to be president, so they have abandoned him.”

Such important liberal voices in the Internet “blogosphere” as DailyKos, MoveOn.org and Arianna Huffington have endorsed Mr. Lamont, often condemning Mr. Lieberman in very harsh terms as a political sellout. Mr. Lamont’s campaign has run an ad showing Mr. Lieberman morphing into President Bush.

Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Lamont faced each other last night in their only scheduled debate, which was hosted by WVIT-TV and also was aired on MSNBC and C-SPAN. During the debate, Mr. Lamont attempted to connect Mr. Lieberman to Mr. Bush while also criticizing the war in Iraq.

“Senator Lieberman, if you won’t challenge President Bush and his failed agenda, I will,” Mr. Lamont said.

“I’m not George Bush,” Mr. Lieberman responded. “So why don’t you stop running against him and have the courage and honesty to run against me and the facts of my record.”

A Democratic insider, who asked to remain anonymous, said the differences go beyond the war in Iraq. Many Democrats felt Mr. Lieberman betrayed the party when he criticized fellow Democrats who opposed the war and Mr. Bush.

Mr. Lieberman fanned such fears on the left regarding his party loyalty by announcing last week that should he lose the primary to Mr. Lamont, he would run an outside candidacy in November. Mrs. Clinton and others have used the formulation of backing the winner of the Democratic primary as a way to condemn such a bid.

In an appearance last month on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Feingold said the nominee “is going to be something decided by the people of Connecticut … I’m not getting involved in the primary.”

“I will support the Democratic nominee, whoever that is,” said Mr. Feingold, who also has been the subject of 2008 White House speculation.

Despite questions about Mr. Lieberman’s support from within the Democratic Party, he has received a number of high-profile endorsements, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, fellow Connecticut Democrat Christopher J. Dodd and 17 Democratic members of the state legislature. More than a dozen other locally elected Democrats have also endorsed Mr. Lieberman.

Democrat Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Barbara Boxer of California and Ken Salazar of Colorado have committed to making appearances in Connecticut on behalf of Mr. Lieberman’s campaign.

However, Mr. Lieberman’s campaign acknowledges that only a handful of Democratic incumbent senators have publicly endorsed him in the primary. Republican spokesman Mr. Nick noted that sitting senators almost always, as a matter of principle and from the need to get along in the clubbish chamber, endorse one another in primaries.

“This is not just anyone — he’s their vice presidential nominee from 2000,” he said. “They have truly sold out their party to the activists on the left.”

In contrast, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, braved much flak from religious conservatives in 2004 to endorse Sen. Arlen Specter against a more-conservative primary challenger.

In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chairman Charles E. Schumer endorsed Mr. Lieberman, but would not rule out supporting Mr. Lamont if he won the primary. Yesterday, the DSCC announced they would support the winner of the primary.

DSCC spokesman Phil Singer told the New York Daily News, “Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and the DSCC are supporting Joe Lieberman in the primary. We aren’t going to speculate about what happens next.”

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