Politics

Connecticut Democrats Face a Complicated Fall

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The Democratic Party is trying to unite behind Ned Lamont, who defeated incumbent Joe Lieberman in Tuesday's primary. But Lieberman, who has filed petitions to run as an independent, believes he still has 'Joe-mentum.'

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

He has lost the Democratic primary and the support of the party leadership. Now, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is going forward with his plan to run as an independent candidate. Lieberman lost yesterday's vote to businessman and political newcomer Ned Lamont, who ran an aggressive anti-war campaign.

Today, both men fixed their sights on November's general election. Lieberman also fired his spokesman and his campaign manager, Sean Smith. Coming up, we'll have analysis of the Connecticut race with our regular political team of E.J. Dionne and David Brooks.

First, to reporter John Dankosky of member station WNPR in Hartford.

JOHN DANKOSKY reporting:

In the early morning hours, after his candidate's close defeat, Sean Smith looked angry. Angry at Democratic voters eager to throw out 18 years of Senate experience, and angry at a party that wouldn't have Joe Lieberman as its candidate.

Mr. SEAN SMITH (Former Campaign Manager, Joe Lieberman): Joe Lieberman is now going to friendlier territory, to all the voters of Connecticut. And I think the Democrats are going to learn something about that, too. You can nominate someone from the far left and they can win a primary, but they can't win a general election. And I hope we pay attention in 2008.

DANKOSKY: But state Democrats weren't thinking about the next presidential candidate. Their goal is November, and they gathered to rally support for a new Senate candidate, someone they hope can win a general election. Ned Lamont.

(Soundbite of applause)

DANKOSKY: It was billed as a unity press conference and it included most of the top Connecticut Democrats, but their long faces and muted applause told the story of a split in the party.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): It's moments like this that are very difficult, where you have personal friendships and relationships.

DANKOSKY: Senator Chris Dodd spent the last several days doggedly courting voters on Lieberman's behalf. But this morning, he shared the stage with Lamont and made it clear. This isn't personal. It's business. And Joe Lieberman is now running against the Democratic Party.

Senator DODD: He's made a decision to run as an independent. I regret that decision, but that was his decision to make and certainly we'll have, I hope, a spirited campaign if he stays in it. But my hope would be that the voters of this state, Democrats, unaffiliated and Republicans, would see the importance of electing Ned Lamont.

DANKOSKY: More than 40 percent of Democrats voted in the primary, and many registered in the final days before the election. Lamont said it was a call for change from within the Democratic Party.

Mr. NED LAMONT (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Connecticut): Change doesn't come easily, but I do believe that we voted for change in the state of Connecticut last night, and I think people around the country are looking at Connecticut.

DANKOSKY: And, he said, they're looking at Connecticut as a signal to the rest of the country on Iraq policy and the Bush administration. Lieberman's support of the administration was a key issue in the campaign, but Lamont rejected the idea that he won on strictly a protest vote against Lieberman.

Mr. LAMONT: You know, I think people turn out and they vote, not when they're voting against something. They turn out and vote when they have something to vote for. I like to think that our campaigns gave people something to vote for.

DANKOSKY: Democratic voters flooded talk shows throughout the day, showing their enthusiasm for Lamont, but also criticizing Lieberman's independent bid. Many said that by running after his primary loss, Lieberman wanted to have it both ways. And the top Democrat overseeing elections, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, seems to agree.

Secretary SUSAN BYSIEWICZ (Secretary of State of Connecticut): I do intend to bring forward legislation to enact a sore loser law so that if you do lose a primary, that that's your shot. You don't have another bite at the apple.

DANKOSKY: But Lieberman has said that he's running again in November, not to spoil a Democratic primary, but to give Connecticut voters the choice of a moderate voice in Washington.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): I'm fighting on for that cause of a government of unity and purpose and solving problems. Not one that spends all its time, as Lamont has done and will do, distorting the opposition, speaking from the edges of our political system and literally getting nothing done. That's what's this is about.

DANKOSKY: Lieberman has filed the necessary paperwork to form a new party that will have a ballot line in the November general election. It's called Connecticut for Lieberman.

For NPR News, I'm John Dankosky in Hartford.

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