Clinton Campaigns for Lieberman's Re-Election Bid

Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) on Monday. Lieberman faces a strong primary challenge from a wealthy cable-TV entrepreneur, Ned Lamont. Polls show the race is a dead heat.

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Joseph Lieberman is facing the political fight of his life after three terms in the Senate and as Al Gore's running mate for the White House.

Millionaire Ned Lamont is challenging Lieberman in next month's Democratic primary in Connecticut. Lieberman's staunch support for the war in Iraq has put him at odds with many of the state's Democrats. He has said he'll run as an independent if he loses the primary.

Yesterday, former President Bill Clinton went to Connecticut to help out Senator Lieberman. Here's NPR's David Welna.

(Soundbite of song, Don't Stop)

FLEETWOOD MAC (Music Group): (Singing) Don't stop thinking about tomorrow...

DAVID WELNA reporting:

The music was a vintage Clinton campaign anthem, but the thoughts of many of the 2,000 or so people gathered in Waterbury's ornate Palace Theater seemed more focused on what's happened in the past few months here: the unexpected rise of Ned Lamont and the sudden danger Lieberman found himself in of losing his job.

This is caused a sense of indignation among Lieberman supporters, including Jim Amann, the Democratic Speaker of Connecticut's House.

State Representative JIM AMANN (Democrat, Connecticut): Shame on all of us if we allow a shrieking minority in our party to hijack this primary.

WELNA: And Lieberman's Senate colleague from Connecticut, Chris Dodd, appeared as a kind of character witness.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Let me tell you something my friends. Joe Lieberman is a good man. Joe Lieberman is a good United States Senator. And let me tell you something else. Joe Lieberman is a very good Democrat, and we're proud of him as a member of our party.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: Dodd has not said, though, whether he'd continue to support Lieberman's bid as an independent, should he lose the August 8th primary.

But by showcasing some of the state's most prominent Democrats, Lieberman clearly sought to burnish his credibility as a reliable party member.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I've look around the hall, and it seems to me that my opponent in the Democratic primary hasn't made it here tonight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. LIEBERMAN: But I'll tell you, if he were here, he'd be a bit confused because of the company I'm keeping up on this stage. Because my opponent is peddling what I would have to call a big lie - that I'm not a real Democrat.

WELNA: Lieberman reminded the crowd that Bill Clinton campaigned for him when Clinton was still a law student at Yale in 1970. He said nothing of the public rebuke he'd given Clinton from the Senate floor eight years ago during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Clinton himself clearly had a few political debts to repay yesterday. But he's also said he'll only support whoever wins the upcoming primary, and he seemed to be leaving open the possibility of later campaigning for Ned Lamont.

President BILL CLINTON (Former President of the United States): I don't have anything against Joe's opponent. He seems like a perfectly fine man. He's got every right to run, and he certainly has waged a vigorous campaign. But I know that on the issues that I believe are critical to the future, Joe Lieberman's past is good evidence of his future.

WELNA: But Lieberman's past support for the war in Iraq is why many Connecticut Democrats say he needs to go. Iraq went virtually unmentioned at yesterday's rally until Clinton brought it up at the very end.

President CLINTON: Let me talk about the pink elephant in the living room, as we used to say. We don't agree on everything. We don't agree on Iraq. But the real issue is, whether you were for it or against it, what are we going to do now.

WELNA: Still, Lieberman is one of the few Senate Democrats who still insist invading Iraq was not a mistake. And even a former President's endorsement may not be enough to keep him on the Democratic ballot.

David Welna, NPR News, Hartford, Connecticut.

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