Barbara Boxer Campaigns for Lieberman

Some political observers see the Democratic primary race in Connecticut for Sen. Joe Lieberman's seat as a metaphor for a schism within the party over the war in Iraq. But California's Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate's strongest opponents of the war, is helping bridge the divide by campaigning on Lieberman's behalf.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams. In a few minutes, want to catch a movie this weekend? Our reviewer reviews the reviews. First, political drama in Connecticut. In ten days Democrats there will choose their nominee for the Senate seat held by Joe Lieberman. He's running again, but also collecting signature's to run as an independent in November in case he loses the primary. He's being really challenged by a wealthy, anti-war, political new-comer Ned Lamont. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Joe Lieberman wore a resolutely cheerful smile as he strode into a Norwalk, Connecticut sweets shop earlier this week.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Hello.

Ms. NANCY WILLIS (Sweet Ashley's, Connecticut): Hello. Welcome to Sweet Ashley's. I'm Nancy Willis.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Nancy.

Ms. WILLIS: Hi.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Barbara Boxer. Senator...

Ms. WILLIS: Nice to meet you.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Good morning, everybody.

WELNA: To refute local Democrats and bloggers who say he's become a Republican Lite, Lieberman showed up at this photo-op campaign stop with one of the Senate's most liberal and most anti-war Democrats.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: I can't think of a person, a colleague, who'd I'd rather have here with me today to speak to what we've done together and what we will do together in the years ahead than the great senator from California. Please join me in welcoming Barbara Boxer.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): Thank you so much, Joe. Thank you very much. I am - I'm very happy to be here. Joe asked if I would come and tell the people the truth about our work together and I was absolutely thrilled to say yes.

WELNA: But Boxer clearly was not so thrilled when a reporter asked whether she'd still back Lieberman as an independent.

Unidentified Man #1 (Reporter): Do you think that he should respect the outcome of the primary?

Sen. BOXER: Well, Sen. Lieberman will do what he does. I'm here to support him in the primary.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: We're going to win the primary.

WELNA: Lieberman was no more willing than Boxer to talk about his contingency plan to defend his Senate seat no matter what happens August 8th.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: I'm not focused on that. I'm not thinking about the day after the primary. I'm thinking about every day between now and the primary.

Unidentified Man #2 (Reporter): But isn't that being disloyal to your party to not respect the outcome and...

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I've spoken to that, and I don't have to speak to it again because I'm focused on winning the primary.

WELNA: A few steps away, Galen Wells watched as Lieberman and his entourage escaped the pack of reporters by ducking down an alleyway. Wells chairs the Norwalk Democratic Party, which recently approved a resolution urging Lieberman to respect the outcome of the Senate primary.

Ms. GALEN WELLS (Chair of Norwalk Democratic Party): You know, if we have a primary, the results of the primary are what it's all about. Otherwise, why not just have a free-for-all? You know, it's important to support the Democratic winner.

WELNA: But Lieberman has a history of breaking with fellow Democrats. So says Scott McLean, chair of the Political Science Department at Connecticut's Quinnipiac University.

Mr. SCOTT MCLEAN (Chair of Political Science Department, Quinnipiac University): It's always been Lieberman's pattern to try to stick with the Democrats as long as possible until it conflicts with a question of principle and then Lieberman will vote what he says is his conscience.

WELNA: And now he's paying the price. Polling done by Quinnipiac this month has Lieberman trailing Ned Lamont by a few percentage points, though still within the margin of error.

(Soundbite of crowd talking)

WELNA: There was an air of giddiness Tuesday evening in Hartford at a packed Lamont fundraiser put on by a women's rights coalition. Among those attending was Canadian born Susie Colbert(ph).

Ms. SUSIE COLBERT (Attended Lamont fundraiser): I'm going to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen on August 4th. I have never voted in my entire life. I cannot wait to vote for Ned Lamont.

(Soundbite of crowd)

WELNA: Working the crowd one-on-one, Ned Lamont comes off more like a gee-wiz kid than multi-millionaire scion of a JP Morgan banking family. But when he speaks to the crowd Lamont clearly knows which button to push to get his listeners livid with Lieberman.

Mr. NED LAMONT (Candidate): He was a strong supporter of President Bush when he rushed us into this war without asking the tough questions. Joe Lieberman cheered on the president every step of the way. And George Bush was wrong and Joe Lieberman was wrong. And I say that those that got us into this mess should be held accountable.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

WELNA: In an interview, Lamont confidently says that unlike Lieberman he's one Democrat who's willing to abide by the results of the August 8th primary.

Mr. LAMONT: The senator should play by the rules. If you want to be a Democrat, stay in the Democratic primary. If you want to run as an independent, go as an independent. But don't try and have it both ways.

WELNA: Lieberman's stance has made it hard for fellow Democrats to say how far they'll support his quest for re-election. Here's Connecticut's other Democratic Senator, Chris Dodd.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I'll do anything in the world for him. I really want him back here badly. But I'm not going to get involved in talking about August 9th. I've got enough problems worrying about August 8th.

WELNA: If Lamont wins on August 8th, Dodd's dilemma could be shared by many in his party, in Connecticut, in the Senate, and wherever Democrats find themselves divided by the war in Iraq. David Welna, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more coming up on DAY TO DAY.

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