Lieberman, Lamont and the War

Will Democrats stick with Lieberman if he loses the primary?

Will Democrats stick with Lieberman if he loses the primary? hide caption

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Sen. Tom Dodd

Sen. Tom Dodd (D-CT) bolted his party to seek re-election in 1970 as an independent -- and lost. hide caption

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Elliot Richardson held four Cabinet posts -- the most in history.

Elliot Richardson held four Cabinet posts -- the most held by any one person in U.S. history. hide caption

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Dewey and Bricker

Sixty-two years ago today, the GOP convention nominates governors Dewey for prez and Bricker for VP. hide caption

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I think it's fair to say that, at this point, anyway, it's the Republicans who will pay the price at the ballot box this year for the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. The killing of al-Qaida terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the installation of a new government in Baghdad notwithstanding, polls clearly show voters to be pessimistic about how it's all going to turn out. As a consequence, it may be Republicans who get turned out on Nov. 7.

And yet, one lawmaker who is currently going through a rough stretch because of the war — and his support for it — is a Democrat: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The party's nominee for vice president in 2000, Lieberman is not simply one of the 29 Senate Dems who voted to authorize President Bush to go to war. It's that he continues to defend that vote, saying toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

And Lieberman continues to defend Bush, telling his fellow Democrats that they "undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." That's a position that might be a plus in some areas in the country, but not in dovish Connecticut. And it's a position that has helped his Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont, rapidly pick up support as the Aug. 8 primary approaches.

Once an unthinkable proposition, the possibility that Lieberman could lose the primary has led to widespread speculation that he might entertain running as an independent in the general election. If that were to happen, he would need to collect 7,500 signatures by Aug. 9 — the day after the primary. It's a scenario that the three-term incumbent has not ruled out, and it has put a lot of his Senate Democratic colleagues in an uncomfortable position. But it might strengthen his bid for re-election, as Lieberman has long posted better numbers among GOP and unaffiliated voters, and the likely Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, has very limited support.

The specter of a Democratic senator from Connecticut bolting his party to run as an independent has brought comparisons to 1970, when then-Sen. Thomas Dodd followed that very course. But not every comparison to '70 rings true. Dodd had been censured by the Senate in 1967 for using campaign funds for his personal use. By the time 1970 arrived, his chances of winning the Democratic Party's backing at the state convention were slim at best.

So Dodd decided that he would not seek or accept his party's nomination, and then mounted a campaign as an independent. The main result to come out of that decision was a divided Democratic Party. And though Dodd finished a weak third in the November general election, he pulled enough votes to hurt the Democratic nominee, Joseph Duffey, and elect the Republican, a first-term House member by the name of Lowell Weicker. (Weicker would go on to serve three terms before being unseated in 1988 by — you guessed it — Joe Lieberman.)

Lieberman, on the other hand, remains generally popular in the state, though certainly not with the Democrats' left-wing base. And while no one seems willing to bet the ranch on his winning the August primary, most see him a clear favorite to prevail in November should he seek the independent route.

DEMS THE BREAKS: Should he lose the Aug. 8 primary, Lieberman would be the first unsuccessful Democratic nominee for vice president to lose a subsequent race for renomination. Here's the list of other Dem losers for VP in the past century and what happened the remainder of their careers:

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1920) — elected governor of New York, 1928, 1930; president, 1933-45.

Charles Bryan (1924) — governor of Nebraska at the time; unsuccessful nominee for governor, 1926, 1928; elected governor, 1930, 1932; unsuccessful candidate for governor, 1938, 1942.

Joe Robinson (1928) — senator from Arkansas at the time; re-elected, 1930, 1936.

John Sparkman (1952)— senator from Alabama at the time; re-elected, 1954, 1960, 1966, 1972.

Estes Kefauver (1956) — senator from Tennessee at the time; re-elected, 1960.

Ed Muskie (1968) — senator from Maine at the time; re-elected, 1970, 1976.

Sargent Shriver (1972) — unsuccessful candidate for presidential nomination, 1976.

Walter Mondale (1980) — vice president at the time; unsuccessful nominee for president, 1984; unsuccessful nominee for senator from Minnesota, 2002.

Geraldine Ferraro (1984) — member of Congress from New York at the time; unsuccessful candidate for Senate nomination, 1992, 1998.

Lloyd Bentsen (1988) — senator from Texas at the time; re-elected, 1988 (state law allowed him to run for vice president and re-election to the Senate at the same time).

John Edwards (2004) — senator from North Carolina at the time.

Tuesday's Primary Results:

UTAH: All eyes were on the Republican contest in the 3rd District. Congressman Chris Cannon, a normally reliable conservative serving his fifth term, was targeted by anti-immigration forces — not for his support of tough border security, but the fact that he also backed President Bush's guest-worker program, which was anathema to many on the right. Cannon had lost the official party endorsement at last month's state GOP convention to political newcomer John Jacob, a no-nonsense foe of immigration. But in Tuesday's primary, Cannon prevailed rather comfortably, 56-44 percent. He is considered safe for another term in November in a district that President Bush carried with 77 percent of the vote.

MISSISSIPPI: State Rep. Erik Fleming easily won the Democratic runoff for the Senate and will have the unenviable task of facing three-term incumbent Republican Trent Lott in November.

STARS, STRIPES AND THE CONSTITUTION: A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Senate to take action to ban desecration of the American flag failed June 27 by one vote. The measure, passed last year in the House by a 286-130 margin, got 66 votes in the Senate; 67 votes (or two-thirds of those voting) were required to send it off to the state legislatures. It's the closest the measure has come to fruition since Congress began considering flag-protection amendments back in 1990.

Every Republican voted in favor except for Robert Bennett (UT), Lincoln Chafee (RI) and Mitch McConnell (KY). The Democrats were far more divided: 14 voted yes and 30 voted no. Here's how those Dems up for re-election in 2006 voted:

Yes: Feinstein (CA), Menendez (NJ), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Stabenow (MI).

No: Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Byrd (WV), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Clinton (NY), Conrad (ND), Kennedy (MA), Kohl (WI), Lieberman (CT).

Every potential Democratic presidential candidate voted against it except for Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Afterwards, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggested that those who voted against it might pay for it back home. Presumably, he was talking about Democrats. But one senator who might be at most risk for his vote is Chafee. He faces a tough Republican primary challenge on Sept. 12 from Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, who is going all out to appeal to conservatives.

OK, enough about me. Some questions from you.

Q: Norman Mineta resigned from the Cabinet after five years with President Bush as secretary of transportation and six months as President Clinton's secretary of commerce. Who else has served in the Cabinet under presidents of different parties? Who has served in the most different Cabinet positions? And who has put in the most Cabinet time, all told? — Allen K. Robinson, Charlottesville, Va.

A: Mineta, the first Asian-American Cabinet secretary, has been secretary of transportation longer than anyone else in history. Three others served in the Cabinet of presidents of different parties. James Schlesinger was President Nixon's secretary of defense and President Carter's energy secretary. Henry Stimson was secretary of war under Presidents Taft and Wilson, secretary of state under Hoover, and secretary of war under FDR and Truman. Edwin Stanton was attorney general in the Buchanan administration (James, not Pat) and secretary of war under Lincoln.

Elliot Richardson held the most Cabinet positions. He was secretary of health, education, and welfare and secretary of defense, as well as attorney general under Nixon, and he served as commerce secretary under Ford.

The longest-serving Cabinet member was agriculture secretary James Wilson. Appointed by President McKinley in 1897, he remained in the post through the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt and William H. Taft — nearly 16 years in all.

Q: We've just had two independents, Kinky Friedman and [state Comptroller] Carole Keeton Strayhorn, qualify for the ballot for governor. When was the last time an independent was elected governor of a state? — G. Molina, Austin, Texas

A: Four men have been elected governor as independent candidates in the past century:

— Julius Meier (Ore.), 1930

— William Langer (N.D.), 1936

— James Longley (Maine), 1974

— Angus King (Maine), 1994, 1998

In addition, there have been nine others in that time period who were elected governor on a third-party ticket: Hiram Johnson (Progressive, Calif.), 1914; Sidney Catts (Prohibition, Fla.), 1916; Floyd Olsen (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1930, 1932, 1934; Philip La Follette (Progressive, Wis.), 1934, 1936; Elmer Benson (Farmer-Labor, Minn.), 1936; Orland Loomis (Progressive, Wis.), 1942; Walter Hickel (Alaska Independence Party), 1990; Lowell Weicker (A Connecticut Party), 1990; and Jesse Ventura (Reform, Minn.), 1998.

Q: In your June 21 column, you stated that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was a Radical Republican. Stanton ran as a Democrat in Ohio for prosecuting attorney and was attorney general in the Buchanan administration. — Myles Clowers, San Diego, Calif.

A: You're right about how Stanton began his political career. But by 1864, Stanton was clearly in the Radical Republican camp.

Q: Did you not forget FDR in your June 21 list as a former secretary of the Navy who later ran for political office? By the way, I love your column — but Yankees baseball beats soccer any day! — Debra Wagner, Johnson City, N.Y.

A: A lot of people wrote in about FDR, but I'm running your letter because of your astute understanding and appreciation of baseball.

For the record, Roosevelt doesn't belong on the list because he was an assistant secretary of the Navy — the position he held when chosen to be the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1920. Interestingly, a distant relative of his who also happened to be president — Theodore Roosevelt — was also an assistant secretary of the Navy.

Debra's note about baseball over soccer was prompted by my tongue-in-cheek comment in the June 21 column that I was no longer following baseball because the Yankees were having a bad week, and that I would instead turn my attention to the World Cup.

That brought a comment from Gunnar Grendstad, all the way from Bergen, Norway: "Your baseball-deflecting comment about 'World Cup' and the game of soccer ('Did you know that you're not allowed to touch the ball with your hands?') actually puts the issue on its head. In most of the world outside the U.S., soccer is properly referred to as football. The rest of the world may in fact return your comment when they discover American Football: 'Did you know that you're allowed to touch the ball with your hands?'"

Truth be told, the World Cup seems to be the only thing people care about lately; for all I know, these people could become the latest voting bloc. I know that's already the case in Japan; there, they are called Osaka Moms.

REMINDER: "Political Junkie" is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation a live call-in program, at 2:40 p.m. Eastern. Special guest: Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), recent winner of a widely-watched special election to succeed Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

Also… Check out NPR's interactive election map, highlighting every Senate, gubernatorial and key House race in the country, with early projections.

Podcast Update: There are already two editions of NPR's weekly political podcast, "It's All Politics," and I still haven't been fired yet. New edition goes up every Thursday at noon. Check it out.

This Day in Campaign History: The Republican National Convention, held in Chicago, nominates Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York for president and Gov. John Bricker of Ohio for vice president on the first ballot (June 28, 1944). The GOP ticket will carry just 12 states in November, with 99 electoral votes, against the Democratic team of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his running mate, Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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