Lieberman Loses to Lamont in Connecticut Primary

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Businessman Ned Lamont upsets Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Lieberman, a three-term senator, says he will seek to run as an independent in the November general election. The race was seen as a test of anti-war sentiment within the Democratic Party.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Voters in five states went to the polls in primary elections yesterday. By far the most-watched race was the battle in Connecticut between Senator Joseph Lieberman and his challenger, anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. Ned Lamont beat the three-term senator, highlighting the Democratic Party's struggle over what to do about the war in Iraq. This morning, Joseph Lieberman's campaign filed papers so that he could run as an independent in the general election, a move threatens to further split the party. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Standing on the podium in the hotel ballroom, flakes of confetti in his hair, Ned Lamont hardly looked the role of giant slayer.

NED LAMONT: They call Connecticut the land of steady habits. Tonight we voted for a big change.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

NAYLOR: Lamont pulled off something few would have predicted when he announced his challenge to Lieberman eight months ago. But Connecticut Democrats were ripe for his message that Lieberman ventured too far to the right on issues like Iraq and cozying up to President Bush. The president's embrace of Lieberman in last January's State of the Union address was parodied at campaign events. But despite winning the nomination, and with only token Republican opposition, Lamont won't have an easy path to the Senate. That's because last night Lieberman said he would remain in the race, running now as an independent.

JOE LIEBERMAN: We've just finished the first half, and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half, our team - team Connecticut is going to surge forward to victory in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

NAYLOR: Lieberman, who just six years ago was his party's vice-presidential nominee, ran a campaign that analysts said was slow to take Lamont seriously. It wasn't until last Sunday that Lieberman offered a detailed explanation for his support for the war - too late to change the trend favoring Lamont that had been apparent in polls for the last few weeks. Lieberman accused Lamont of engaging in the politics of polarization, but the senator himself sounded anything but forgiving last night.

LIEBERMAN: I expect that my opponent will continue to do in the general election what he has done in the primary: partisan polarizing instead of talking about how we could solve the people's problems - insults instead of ideas.

NAYLOR: At his victory celebration, Lamont was flanked by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters - all of whom campaigned hard for him in the state's African-American communities. Lamont got his biggest response when he returned to the issue of Iraq.

LAMONT: We have 132,000 of our bravest troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war in Iraq, and I'd say it's high time we bring them home to the hero's welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

CROWD: Bring them home, bring them home...

NAYLOR: At polling places in schools and civic buildings across the state yesterday, flags were being flown at half-staff, mourning the loss of a marine from a Connecticut guard unit killed in Fallujah. It was the war that Lamont supporters like Richard Naylor of Middletown cited time and again.

RICHARD NAYLOR: I was against it a year before it started, and I think there has to be a price to pay for anyone who supported it. So I voted against Lieberman.

NAYLOR: The nomination in hand, Lamont now must try to unify the state's Democrats behind his candidacy. Flushed with his success, Lamont sounded optimistic.

LAMONT: I feel pretty confident the Democratic Party is going to rally behind the winner of this primary. They're going to rally behind my candidacy, and we're going to go forward united.

NAYLOR: But some party regulars - disheartened by Lieberman's loss and unconvinced by Lamont - say they'll stick with the three-term incumbent. Bill Finch is a Democratic state senator from Bridgeport.

BILL FINCH: It's a myth that Joe is not a Democrat. Granted, he's had some bad symbolic votes in my opinion. But I don't throw a friend away who has been a friend to Connecticut for most of his adult life - all of my adult life - because of a few symbolic votes.

NAYLOR: Still, this was a moment to savor for Lamont supporters, especially those opposed to the war in Iraq. It's a new feeling, said one happy Lamont backer - winning for a change. The question is whether that feeling will still be there in November.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Meriden, Connecticut.

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Lamont Pulls Off Upset; What's Next for Lieberman?

Ned Lamont celebrates with supporters including wife Annie and daughter Lindsay, 15. i

Ned Lamont celebrates with supporters including wife Annie and daughter Lindsay, 15. Bob Falcetti/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Bob Falcetti/Getty Images
Ned Lamont celebrates with supporters including wife Annie and daughter Lindsay, 15.

Ned Lamont celebrates with supporters including wife Annie and daughter Lindsay, 15.

Bob Falcetti/Getty Images
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) at a House Armed Services Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in July. i

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) at a House Armed Services Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in July. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) at a House Armed Services Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in July.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) at a House Armed Services Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in July.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Kiss: Lieberman and Bush

As is usually the case, a kiss means more than a hug.

The Hug: Lieberman and Clinton
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The last Dem senator with at least three terms of seniority to lose a primary was Arkansas' Fulbright in 1974. hide caption

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Cynthia McKinney button

The Georgia congresswoman is unseated in the primary, again. hide caption

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Thirty-two years ago today, President Nixon resigned his office. hide caption

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You knew it could happen, and as the primary was approaching, you even thought it would happen. And yet when the news came, it was a stunner.

Six years after he was the party's nominee for vice president, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman was beaten in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont, an anti-war activist and millionaire businessman who just months ago was little more than "Ned Who?"

The war in Iraq was a big reason. Lieberman didn't just vote to give the president the authority to go to war, as 28 other Democratic senators had done. He defended his position, over and over, and he repeatedly criticized his fellow Democrats who opposed President Bush's conduct of the war. And while this was happening, the war was becoming more and more unpopular, especially with Democrats. The anger among the Democratic left was particularly rising, an anger that Lieberman failed to heed until it was too late.

But there was more to it than simply the war. Many in his party seethed when he criticized President Clinton's conduct during the Monica impeachment proceedings back in 1998. They wanted to know why he would align himself with the effort to involve Congress in the Terri Schiavo case. Elected with the help of Democrats AND Republicans in 1988, he always fashioned himself as above partisan politics. Some saw that as statesmanship; others saw it as sanctimony. Whatever it was, it wasn't good enough in a year where the rancor between the two parties was louder than ever.

Normally, when an incumbent senator loses his bid for renomination, it's end of story. But Lieberman said he will seek re-election as an independent in November, insisting that the real voters had yet to be heard from. Still, Lamont's 52-48 win is likely to bring most Democratic leaders, including those in the Senate, behind Lamont's candidacy — as well as a chorus of party folks who will want Lieberman to drop his indie bid. Should he stay in, as he says he will, Lieberman's move is not likely to damage the party to the point where the Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, the mayor of Derby, wins; Schlesinger is a particularly weak candidate.

A recent poll shows that in a three-way race, Lieberman would win handily. But that was before Tuesday's results. And not long ago, Ned Lamont's polling numbers had him in single digits.

For the record, 24 senators have been denied renomination in the past half-century; only one, Jacob Javits (R-NY), attempted to keep his seat in November, and he didn't come close. And the last Democratic senator with at least three terms under his belt to be defeated in a primary was William Fulbright of Arkansas, who was beaten by then-Gov. Dale Bumpers in 1974.

Other Primary Results: Reps. McKinney (D) and Schwarz (R) lose:

GEORGIA: In the 4th Congressional District, the always-controversial Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), who made national headlines last March when she scuffled with a Capitol Hill police officer, lost the primary runoff to former DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. It was the second time McKinney was unseated in the primary; she lost in 2002, after having said that President Bush may have known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks; she was returned to office two years later. Johnson is assured of victory in November.

MICHIGAN: Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard defeated the Rev. Keith Butler in the GOP primary for the right to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in November. Butler was among several African-American candidates who ran statewide this year. Republicans insist Bouchard has a shot at toppling Stabenow.

7th Congressional District: Freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) was unseated by conservative ex-state Rep. Tim Walberg, who was backed by the Club for Growth organization. Walberg, part of a large Republican field that lost to Schwarz in the 2004 primary, criticized the incumbent for his "liberal" views on abortion, gay rights, and taxes.

Governor: Dick DeVos (R) will face Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D).

COLORADO: Former Denver district attorney Bill Ritter (D) will face Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) for the position being vacated by term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Owens.

5th Congressional District: State Sen. Doug Lamborn, with the backing of the conservative Club for Growth organization, won a six-candidate Republican primary and will be the heavy favorite to succeed Rep. Joel Hefley (R), who is retiring. The Democratic nominee is Jay Fawcett, a Gulf War veteran.

7th Congressional District: The battle to succeed gubernatorial candidate Beauprez will be between Rick O'Donnell (R) and former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D); this is a key race for both parties.

ALSO IN CONNECTICUT: New Haven Mayor John DeStefano defeated Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Jodi Rell in November. Rell is a clear favorite to return to office.

MISSOURI: Republican Sen. Jim Talent faces state Auditor Claire McCaskill, one of the Democrats' must-win states if they are going to take back the Senate.

TENNESSEE (Aug. 3): Former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker defeated ex-Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary for the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated by Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader. Corker will face Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) in November.

1st Congressional District: State Rep. David Davis finished first by the skin of his teeth in a 13-candidate Republican primary field and will be the odds-on choice to hold the seat being vacated by Rep. Bill Jenkins (R).

9th Congressional District: The Ford family's three-decades-plus hold on this Memphis-based congressional district may be ending. State Sen. Steve Cohen, a white liberal, won a 15-candidate Democratic primary to succeed Harold Ford Jr., who is giving up the seat to run for the Senate. However, Ford's brother, Jake Ford, may run as an independent candidate in this black-majority district.

While we try to catch our breath and reflect on what happened Tuesday in Connecticut, we have time for some questions.

Q: When was the last time a sitting Democratic senator lost a primary to a challenger who outflanked him on the left? — Gerard Jeffries, Wheeling, W. Va.

A: I think you have to go back to 1968, where two-term conservative incumbent Frank Lausche was defeated by liberal ex-Rep. John Gilligan in Ohio. The comparisons to Lieberman-Lamont are not exact – Lausche was really conservative, whereas Lieberman, despite his long support for the war in Iraq, was hardly that; and Gilligan was not the kind of anti-war crusader that Lamont is. But it was clearly an example of a Democratic senator being ambushed in the primary from the left.

Q: I keep reading, "If defeated, Lieberman will be only the fourth incumbent senator since 1980 to lose a primary election." Who are the other three? — John Bohrer, Monroe Township, N.J.

A: The other three were Bob Smith (R-NH) in 2002, Sheila Frahm (R-KS) in 1996, and Alan Dixon (D-IL) in 1992. Lieberman is now the fourth.

Q: In your May 17 column listing those senators who also served in the House, you listed Michigan's Debbie Stabenow. Are you certain that Stabenow served in the House? –- Jerry Combs

A: Stabenow knocked off freshman Republican Dick Chrysler in Michigan's 8th congressional district in 1996, was easily re-elected in '98, and won the Senate seat in 2000.

Q: The president of Poland has just appointed his identical twin brother as its prime minister. I'm pretty sure no U.S. president has been a twin, identical or otherwise (not including the Old and New Nixon). But have there been identical twins in the House or Senate? -– Steve Carr, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada

A: Yesterday's results in Connecticut may lead some to say that Joe Lieberman and George W. Bush were twins, but they weren't. Seriously, I couldn't think of any, so I went to the best expert I could think of: Don Ritchie, the Assistant Senate Historian. He says that there were no twin brothers who served in the Senate or the House — "not even an 'evil twin,'" he added. The only brothers who served simultaneously in the Senate were the Kennedys, Robert (New York) and Edward (Massachusetts). As for the 27 or so sets of brothers who served simultaneously in the House and Senate — such as Michigan's Carl Levin (Senate) and Sander Levin (House), who currently serve — none appears to be twins.

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. A special thanks to Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont, who appeared on last week's program. This week: what's next for Lieberman and Lamont; the defeat of Cynthia McKinney and other primary results; Tom DeLay drops out of the running; Rep. Bob Ney says no to another term; and more.

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

Podcast Update: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia announces that Tom DeLay's name must remain in this week's installment of NPR's political podcast, "It's All Politics." Don't forget, a new edition goes up every Thursday at noon. Check out the podcast page for more details.

NO COLUMN NEXT WEEK: "Political Junkie" returns on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

This Day in Political History: President Richard Nixon resigns (Aug. 9, 1974).

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

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