Monday, August 14, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn. — Sen. Joe Lieberman’s re-election bid as an independent will depend on whether he can maintain voter support at home in the next few weeks and raise the money needed to wage a campaign against two party-backed candidates.

Exit polling suggests that although Mr. Lieberman can rely on support in November from most of the voters who picked him in last week’s Democratic primary — which he lost 52 percent to 48 percent to businessman Ned Lamont — he still must draw support from a significant number of Republican and independent voters to win.

The campaign can take solace from a poll conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports that found 46 percent of Connecticut voters support Mr. Lieberman and 41 percent side with Mr. Lamont. Six percent said they support Republican Alan Schlesinger.

Even with an early lead, Mr. Lieberman will need plenty of money, which is far more difficult for him to raise without party backing. Further complicating that effort is that Mr. Lamont has shown a willingness to fund his anti-war campaign with his personal fortune of millions.

Mr. Lieberman has fired his campaign staffers, replacing them with trusted aides. He also has, belatedly, begun forcefully battling charges leveled against him during the primary that he blindly supports the war in Iraq and worked too closely with President Bush.

And although Mr. Lieberman has lost the backing of the Democratic Party leaders, it is not clear how actively they will support Mr. Lamont’s effort.

“I do not think resources are going to be a problem for Joe Lieberman,” said House Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, who is leading the effort to raise money for Republican House candidates. “He is going to get a tremendous amount of support from the American Jewish community.”

In particular, Mr. Cantor said, those donors appreciate Mr. Lieberman’s unwavering support of Israel and his determination to root out terrorism.

“I have spoken to many national contributors in the American Jewish community who are extremely frustrated with the steps that were taken to defeat Joe Lieberman,” Mr. Cantor said.

Mr. Lieberman begins his independent campaign with backing from about 75 percent of his supporters in the primary, according to an exit poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News. That amounts to nearly 40 percent of the Democrats who participated in the primary.

His base, according to the poll, is significantly more loyal than is Mr. Lamont’s. Nearly half of Mr. Lamont’s supporters said they were motivated primarily by opposition to Mr. Lieberman, while 92 percent of Mr. Lieberman’s supporters said they were casting their vote because they like Mr. Lieberman and the job he has done.

And although Democrats rejected Mr. Lieberman in the primary, the incumbent holds a job-approval rating of 56 percent.

Mr. Lieberman also is expected to draw substantial support among Connecticut Republicans and independents. Though such voters constitute a majority of the Connecticut electorate — and historically have been very supportive of Mr. Lieberman — registered Republicans and independents were prohibited under state law from voting in the Democratic primary.

The apparent lack of interest among national Republicans in their long-shot nominee likely will help Mr. Lieberman pick up Republican votes.

“Connecticut doesn’t appear to be a competitive campaign for our nominee right now, so we are focusing our attention elsewhere on races where we might have a greater impact,” Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Washington Times.

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