Can Lieberman Survive the Primary?

 Alan Dixon of Illinois was the last Democratic senator to be unseated in the primary.

Alan Dixon of Illinois was the last Democratic senator to be unseated in the primary. hide caption

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Nixon

Even if he had won Texas -- or Illinois -- Nixon wouldn't have beaten Kennedy in 1960. hide caption

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Lyndon Johnson

Forty-six years ago today, Texas Sen. Lyndon Johnson belatedly jumps into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. hide caption

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Last week's column focused on the situation facing Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) should he lose his Aug. 8 primary to anti-war businessman Ned Lamont. The dilemma — whether or not he would then mount an independent candidacy for a fourth term — was answered on Monday: Joe's a go.

The decision reflects a widely held view that while Lieberman may lead in the polls, it's Lamont who has the momentum. That fact was all but acknowledged when Lieberman said he would begin the process of gathering the 7,500 signatures required to get on the general election ballot by Aug. 9, the day after the primary.

The irony is not lost: A senior Democratic member of the Senate is in a fight for survival over Iraq, when conventional wisdom has long held that it's the GOP who will pay the political price for the war. But Lieberman's hawkishness on Iraq, and his tendency to both support President Bush and criticize his own party on military/defense matters, have made him the test case for a left-wing party base that has grown restive during three years of war.

Senators have been defeated for renomination in the past, of course. But you'd have to go back over three decades to find the last incumbent defeated in part because of his views on war. One of the differences between Lieberman's situation and the 1970 Texas Democratic primary was that the incumbent at the time, Ralph Yarborough, was a dove when it came to Vietnam, and that his successful challenger, ex-Rep. Lloyd Bentsen, was a hawk.

Here's a list of incumbent senators who have been defeated for renomination in the past half-century (asterisk denotes incumbents who were appointed, not elected):

2002: Bob Smith (R-NH) – lost to John Sununu (GOP retained seat in November)

1996: Sheila Frahm (R-KS)* - lost to Sam Brownback (GOP retained seat)

1992: Alan Dixon (D-IL) – lost to Carol Moseley Braun (Dems retained seat)

1980: Donald Stewart (D-AL) – lost to Jim Folsom Jr. (GOP picked up seat); Mike Gravel (D-AK) – lost to Clark Gruening (GOP picked up seat); Dick Stone (D-FL) – lost to Bill Gunter (GOP picked up seat); Jacob Javits (R-NY) – lost to Al D'Amato (GOP retained seat)

1978: Maryon Allen (D-AL)* - lost to Donald Stewart (Dems retained seat); Paul Hatfield (D-MT)*; lost to Max Baucus (Dems retained seat); Clifford Case (R-NJ) – lost to Jeffrey Bell (Dems picked up seat)

1974: J. W. Fulbright (D-AR) – lost to Dale Bumpers (Dems retained seat); Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH)* - lost to John Glenn (Dems retained seat)

1972: David Gambrell (D-GA)* - lost to Sam Nunn (Dems retained seat); B. Everett Jordan (D-NC) – lost to Nick Galifianakis (GOP picked up seat)

1970: Ralph Yarborough (D-TX) – lost to Lloyd Bentsen (Dems retained seat)

1968: Ernest Gruening (D-AK) – lost to Mike Gravel (Dems retained seat); Thomas Kuchel (R-CA) – lost to Max Rafferty (Dems picked up seat); Edward Long (D-MO) – lost to Thomas Eagleton (Dems retained seat); Frank Lausche (D-OH) – lost to John Gilligan (GOP picked up seat)

1966: Donald Russell (D-SC)* - lost to Ernest Hollings (Dems retained seat); Ross Bass (D-TN) – lost to Frank Clement (GOP picked up seat); A. Willis Robertson (D-VA) – lost to William Spong (Dems retained seat)

1964: J. Howard Edmondson (D-OK)* – lost to Fred Harris (Dems retained seat)

1962: Maurice Murphy (R-NH)* - lost to Perkins Bass (Dems picked up seat)

One comment about our observation last week on the Lieberman-Lamont contest came from Christian Fuenfhausen of New York City: "Your article on Lieberman's troubles was interesting, but like your colleagues at other 'mainstream' outlets, you focus on the wrong reason for opposition to Lieberman. The primary reason rank-and-file Democrats oppose Lieberman is NOT because he was and is for the war in Iraq. There are many Democratic senators who supported the war or continue to tacitly support the war and have not met with the kind of vehement anger that Lieberman has met with. Lieberman has consistently undermined the Democratic Party since 2002, to the point where he has become 'Bush's favorite Democrat' and a darling of Fox News. He has regularly stabbed his own party in the back, even to the point of accusing other Democrats of being, basically, traitors (he said basically as much regarding those who questioned Bush's motives for the Iraq war). That is why Lieberman must go, in the minds of many, many loyal Democrats like myself. It would be nice if members of the press would finally clue in to this larger issue and stop parroting the 'conventional wisdom' about why Lieberman is in trouble. He's in trouble because he attacks his own. So now he is getting his comeuppance. We're finding that Joe Lieberman, in the end, seems only interested in Joe Lieberman and not the Democratic Party. And we Democrats will be a better party without him."

By the way, last week's column also listed the campaigns of unsuccessful Democratic vice-presidential nominees after the ticket lost. Barry Toiv, Charles Markey, Bill Stephens and Joel Goldstein all thought that I should have added the Cabinet positions of Ed Muskie (secretary of state under Carter) and Lloyd Bentsen (secretary of treasury under Clinton), as well as the fact that Walter Mondale was ambassador to Japan under Clinton. And so I will!

On to the questions:

Q: Where does Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) stand regarding Lieberman's campaign? I know he endorsed him for president in 2004. Is he any relation to Thomas Dodd? — Robert Podrebarac, Kansas City, Kansas

A: Chris Dodd, the son of the late Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-CT, 1959-70), is enthusiastically backing Lieberman in the primary. He delivered the nominating speech for Lieberman at the state Democratic convention, but has not said what he would do if Lamont defeated Lieberman in the primary.

Q: On Sunday, June 18, former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes made a serious factual error on your Weekend All Things Considered program. He said that John F. Kennedy would not have won the presidency in 1960 had he not won Texas. Not so. Kennedy got 303 votes in the Electoral College to 219 for Vice President Nixon and 15 for Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia. Had Texas' 24 electoral votes gone for Nixon, Kennedy still would have won, 279-243.

People in my home state of Illinois make the same mistake. They say if not for Mayor Richard Daley's Democratic machine-generated voter fraud (all the dead Chicagoans who voted Democratic), Kennedy would not have won the presidency. Wrong again. Kennedy might have lost Illinois AND the U.S. popular vote, but Illinois had only 27 electoral votes, and Kennedy would still have won the White House without Illinois. — Alan Scherer, Decatur, Ill.

A: You are right about both states; Nixon would have needed more than Texas or Illinois to win the presidency. I'm printing your question because, as you state, this is a common myth that needs to be debunked.

Also, for the record, while there seems to be little question that Mayor Daley did whatever he could to rig the results in Chicago for the Democrats, it seems also true that Republican leaders in downstate Illinois did whatever they could to rig the results on behalf of Nixon and the Republicans. Daley was just better at it.

Q: Your April 5 feature on Senate majority leaders who ran for president included all of them except for one: William Knowland (R-CA), who initially put his name on some primary ballots on the off-chance that President Eisenhower would not run for re-election in 1956, then withdrew when Ike announced himself as a candidate, and then tossed his name back into the mix briefly when Ike had his heart attack. Knowland was majority leader from 1955-59. Also, with regard to Bob Dole, although you are correct that he was a former majority leader by the time the convention came around, he didn't give up that title until he all but captured the nomination. Finally, I believe that the 1928 presidential bid of Majority Leader Charles Curtis (R-KS) was more serious than you acknowledged; he contested for delegates at several state conventions, and opened a NYC headquarters in February of '28. – Keating Holland, Polling Director, CNN, Washington, D.C.

A: Knowland clearly wanted to be president, and he did nothing to prevent his supporters from entering his name on several key primary ballots in 1956, hoping against hope that Eisenhower's heart attack would preclude him from seeking re-election. But once it became clear that Ike was indeed going to run again, and run again with Richard Nixon (Knowland's fellow Californian and bitter rival) as his No. 2, Knowland had no choice but to withdraw his name from consideration. In looking ahead to the 1960 election, he knew that the biggest roadblock to his winning the Republican nomination was Nixon. Knowland somehow thought that giving up his Senate seat in 1958 and winning the governorship would help buttress his chances. But that strategy backfired: He lost badly to state Attorney General Pat Brown, and his political career was over.

Knowland, by the way, was majority leader from 1953, following the death of Sen. Robert Taft (R-OH), until the 1954 elections, when the Republicans lost the Senate. He was minority leader from 1955 until his own defeat in '58.

Q: Despite your chuckling in the Feb. 16 column over Henry Davis, the nation's oldest vice-presidential candidate, it may have been that Alton Parker — the Democratic presidential nominee in 1904 — knew something others didn't… that Davis, though nearly 30 years older than he was, obviously came from sturdy stock. Davis, approaching 81 years of age, not only survived the election but lived another 12 years — certainly long enough to serve out two terms as VP, had Parker not been running against Teddy Roosevelt.

While Parker is a footnote to history, he can be credited with keeping William Randolph Hearst out of the White House. Hearst was Parker's chief opponent for the Democratic nomination in '04. Hearst, to help his chances, started a new daily newspaper in Chicago to promote his candidacy the week before the convention opened in St. Louis. He trucked the paper down from Chicago in an attempt to give legitimacy to his campaign. The tactic, of course, failed. — Phil Lentz, New York, N.Y.

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.

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This Day in Campaign History: Six days before the opening of the party's national convention in Los Angeles, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination (July 5, 1960). He will lose to Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-MA) on the first ballot but will be rewarded with the vice-presidential slot.

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