What Happens If Lieberman Wins?

JAVITS LIBERAL PARTY:

hide captionNew York had a third-party line ready for Sen. Jacob Javits after he lost the 1980 Republican primary.

ALFORD:

hide captionArkansas' Dale Alford is one of only three people who were elected to the House via a write-in campaign in the past half century.

HEALEY:  Communist, yes.  NPR, no.

hide captionCommunist, yes. NPR, no.

Murkowski

hide captionAlaska's governor finishes THIRD in Tuesday's GOP primary.

Sen. John Tower

hide captionTwenty-three years ago today, Sen. John Tower (R-TX) calls it quits.

Q: Now that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is seeking re-election as an independent, after he lost the Democratic primary, will he lose his seniority in the Senate? — Mary Cyr, Hartford, Conn.

A: It will be interesting to see what happens to Lieberman should he win his three-way race in November, and what kind of a reception he gets from his fellow Democrats when he returns to Washington. There is clearly a lot of anger directed at him from many of his Democratic colleagues for his decision to run as an independent — and not back Ned Lamont, who won the primary by four points. The anger didn't diminish when, after the primary, he again criticized some in the party for their response to the threat of terrorism. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) responded by saying Lieberman was "echoing the Republicans' intolerable rhetoric." And then Lieberman announced the hiring of Neil Newhouse, a Republican, as his pollster. Newhouse and his firm, Public Opinion Strategies, are going all out to ensure that the GOP retains control of the House and Senate.

Despite all this, Lieberman has insisted that he is and always has been a loyal Democrat and will caucus with the Democrats if and when he returns for a fourth term. Lieberman has said that Minority Leader Harry Reid, himself a Lamont backer, told him his seniority would not be affected no matter what happens. I remember that, years ago, the Democratic caucus stripped Rep. John Bell Williams (D-MS) of his seniority because he backed Republican Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. But that was when the Dems had untouchable majorities in both houses of Congress, and there was no real Republican Party in Mississippi worth switching to. Neither is the case today.

Q: Do the election rules in Connecticut require the winner of the general election to get a majority, or just a plurality? If no one gets a majority in November, is there a runoff? — Eric Gottlieb, Memphis, Tenn.

A: You only need a plurality of votes to win in Connecticut. Lieberman himself got 49.8 percent of the vote in his maiden Senate race in 1988, when he unseated Republican Lowell Weicker. Weicker also came to the Senate with just a plurality, winning the three-way race in 1970 with 42 percent. When Weicker was elected governor in 1990, as a third-party candidate, he did so with 40 percent. His successor as governor, Republican John Rowland, won a three-way race in '94 with 36 percent.

Q: I remember the 1980 Senate race in New York, when incumbent Jacob Javits ran in November on the Liberal Party line, a nomination he already had prior to his defeat in the Republican primary by Al D'Amato. This differs from Joe Lieberman running essentially on his own line in Connecticut. — Ronald May, Jerusalem, Israel

A: That is correct. New York already has a system whereby minor parties are already on the ballot, and they have the option of backing their own candidates or endorsing others in the race, Democrats or Republicans. Javits was already the Liberal Party designee when D'Amato beat him in the 1980 Republican primary. Despite the pleadings from many liberals that he get out of the race — fearing a split in the liberal vote would elect the conservative D'Amato — Javits stayed in. And the split helped send D'Amato to the Senate for the first of his three terms.

In campaigning as an independent for November, Lieberman essentially is creating his own party as a vehicle for him to run on.

Alas, the Liberal Party, which under Alex Rose in the 1950s and '60s used to hold tremendous weight in New York politics, is no longer.

Q: In your Aug. 9 list, you seem to have forgotten about another senator who lost renomination but still sought re-election in the fall: Thomas Dodd, and ironically he held the same seat that Lieberman does. Dodd lost in the 1970 primary to Joseph Duffey and then both lost in the general to Lowell Weicker. — Brice Peyre, New York, N.Y.

A: Wrong. Tom Dodd decided to bypass the Democratic Party endorsement process altogether, and ran instead as an Independent in his bid for a third term — his vehicle was called the "Dodd Independent Party." Joe Duffey beat two other candidates for the Democratic nomination, and both Duffey and Dodd (in that order) lost to Weicker in November.

Q: What are the chances the Republican write-in candidate for Tom DeLay's old House seat in Texas can beat Democrat Nick Lampson in November? I don't think the GOP has enough time to pull it off. — Robert Cooper, Washington, D.C.

A: Obviously, given the fact that only three people accomplished the feat in the past half-century, it's not an easy task trying to win election to the House as a write-in candidate. It may be even more difficult, given the fact that the GOP may have some divisions over how they came to endorse their write-in candidate, Houston Council member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. She was nominated at a meeting of 22nd District Republican precinct chairs over Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace.

Wallace had initially indicated he would remain in the race as a write-in candidate, suggesting that the endorsement of Sekula-Gibbs was a sham and unrepresentative of the district's "grass roots." But with national Republicans insisting that the only way they would fund the race — they were pledging $3 million — was if the GOP field was limited to one candidate, Wallace withdrew this week. Part of the decision to bypass Wallace may have been based on his decision to take on and defeat the incumbent Republican mayor of Sugar Land in 2002.

I don't have intimate knowledge about the campaign skills of either Sekula-Gibbs or Wallace, but I would venture a guess that writing in the name of the latter would be easier than the former. And there's another complication: Some Republicans have suggested that the best way to deny Lampson a return to Congress is to vote for Bob Smither, the Libertarian Party nominee, who is already on the ballot.

If Lampson wins in November, as well he might, look for Wallace to seek the GOP nomination in 2008. And if Lampson does win this year, the blame rests with DeLay, under indictment in Texas, whose decision to run and then withdraw was a major miscalculation.

And wouldn't that be something if the Democrats won the House by one seat — Tom DeLay's.

Now, on to the question: Does the GOP have enough time to unite behind Sekula-Gibbs and hold onto the seat? While the odds don't look so good, it might be helpful to look at what happened in Arkansas in 1958, where the winning write-in candidate launched his effort just one week to go before the election. Here's a look at that situation, as well as the other two times a House candidate won on a write-in:

DALE ALFORD, Arkansas, 1958

The issue here was President Eisenhower's sending in federal troops to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. Most Arkansas politicians opposed the intervention, but Rep. Brooks Hays (D) tried to mediate the standoff between the federal government and Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus (D). This inflamed segregationists in the state, who rallied around a Citizens Council candidate in the Democratic primary. Hays prevailed by a 3-2 margin. Then, with a week to go before the November election, Alford, a member of the Little Rock school board, launched a write-in bid against Hays. Backed by Faubus' allies, Alford won in a major upset by just over 1,200 votes (51-49 percent).

JOE SKEEN, New Mexico, 1980

Five-term Rep. Harold Runnels, a conservative Democrat, was so popular in his district that the Republicans didn't even put up a candidate against him, either in 1978 or '80. Then, on Aug. 5, 1980, Runnels, 56, died of cancer. The state attorney general, a Democrat, announced that the Democrats could replace Runnels on the ballot but that it was too late for the Republicans to do so. Enraged Republicans rallied behind a write-in effort by Skeen, a former state senator who twice ran for governor and who was well-known in the district. The Democrats also had their problems: They nominated David King, the nephew of Gov. Bruce King, to replace Runnels on the ballot. David King had only moved his voter registration into the district some 10 days after Runnels died. Worse, he defeated Runnels' widow Dorothy for the nomination, which led her to launch a write-in candidacy as well. The Democratic disarray enabled Skeen to win as a write-in candidate with 38 percent of the vote.

RON PACKARD, California, 1982

Eighteen Republicans were running in the primary for the seat being vacated by Rep. Clair Burgener (R). The winner was political novice Johnny Crean, whose family wealth bankrolled his saturation of the airwaves in the district, situated just north of San Diego. Crean spent well over $750,000 in the primary, then a substantial amount, mostly attacking his fellow Republicans, while ducking candidate forums and personal appearances. Crean defeated Carlsbad Mayor Ron Packard in the primary by 92 votes out of more than 83,000 cast. Furious, Packard announced a write-in effort. Fearful that the GOP split in this overwhelming GOP district could end up electing a Democrat, there was great pressure on Packard to end his bid. But he refused, and won the seat with 37 percent of the vote. The Democrat finished second with 32 percent; Crean received 31 percent.

Q: Is it true that Dorothy Healey, the former leader in the American Communist Party who died recently, once worked for NPR? — Gary Strickland, Washington, D.C.

A: No. Healey, once known as the "Red Queen" of the Communist Party, hosted a weekly program, first in Los Angeles and then in Washington, D.C., for Pacifica Radio, not NPR. In Washington, the show had been airing on WPFW until her death on Aug. 6.

Primary Results: Murkowski Loses in Alaska

ALASKA: Gov. Frank Murkowski didn't just lose Tuesday's Republican primary for another term; he finished third, with just 19 percent of the vote, well behind former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin and ex-state Sen. John Binkley. Murkowski, a four-term senator who gave up Washington to become governor, was in trouble from the outset of his term. Much of it was centered on his gruff personality, though his decision to appoint his daughter Lisa to fill his Senate seat, his insistence on purchasing a state jet for himself, and the partial shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field all contributed to his defeat. Palin will face Tony Knowles, the former two-term governor who was the losing Democratic Senate nominee against Lisa Murkowski in 2004.

WYOMING: No big surprises in the races for senator or governor. Sen. Craig Thomas (R) is a clear favorite over Democratic engineer Dale Groutage. Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) is favored to defeat attorney Ray Hunkins (R). But it's worth noting that Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) won just 60 percent of the vote in her primary contest against a complete political unknown. For more about her Democratic opponent, Gary Trauner, see the "Meet the Challenger"feature below.

OKLAHOMA RUNOFF: Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin easily won the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated by GOP gubernatorial nominee Ernest Istook. She defeated Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and is the heavy favorite in November against surgeon David Hunter (D). Oklahoma hasn't sent a woman to Congress since 1920.

NEVADA (Aug. 15): In the race for the Senate, Republican incumbent John Ensign will face Jack Carter, son of former President Jimmy Carter. With two-term Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) ineligible to run again, the choice in November will be between Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) and state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus (D). And for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Gibbons, it appears that Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller edged out state Sen. Sharron Angle for the GOP nomination by just 428 votes; Gibbons' wife Dawn, a former state representative, finished third. The Democratic nominee is state university regent Jill Derby.

Trauner button

MEET THE CHALLENGER: In a recent column, we asked for you to send in campaign buttons for this year's Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates. Our end of the bargain — aside from satisfying Ken Rudin's button craze, which is paramount — would be to feature the candidate in a "meet the challenger" section. In this week's launching of the feature, the focus turns to Gary Trauner (D), who is challenging seven-term Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) in Wyoming.

Trauner is a businessman who has raised eyebrows in Washington with a stronger-than-expected fundraising apparatus. Democrats are very high on him, partly because he appears to be a good campaigner, but also because Cubin took a weaker-than-expected 55 percent of the vote in 2004 — considerably less than the 69 percent won by the presidential ticket of George W. Bush and Wyoming's favorite son, Dick Cheney, who held the state's at-large House seat from 1979-89.

A series of controversial statements made by Cubin over the past several years has weakened her hold on the seat; add that to the possibility that Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a clear favorite for a second term, might have some coattails. This race may be, more than anything else, a referendum on Cubin. No member of the House from Wyoming has been defeated for re-election in the general election since Rep. William Henry Harrison (R) in 1964.

Want to see your candidate's campaign button appear in the next Political Junkie? And, at the same time, make Ken Rudin happy? Send your 2006 buttons to Political Junkie, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001.

SENSE OF YUMA: A big thank you to the wonderful folks at station KNAU in Flagstaff, Arizona, who recently put together a wonderful group of NPR supporters who sad to say were forced to listen to NPR Executive Vice President Ken Stern and me talk endlessly about the future of National Public Radio. It was really impressive to see the job being done by station general manager John Stark, program director Geoff Norcross, and everyone else associated with KNAU. And my God, is the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff breathtaking!

SAD NEWS: Milton Jaques, a former news reporter who as a member of the board of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council helped organize seminars for U.S. high school students on politics and government, died on Aug. 9. Jaques, who was 79, worked tirelessly to make a difference at a time when more and more students are turned off to news and journalism. He was a special guy and will be missed.

NEW EXTENDED TIME FOR "POLITICAL JUNKIE"ON THE AIR! Starting this week, the "Political Junkie" segment that is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation program begins at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. That means there is more time to listen to Ken Rudin's ramblings! On the Aug. 2nd show, we had both Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. This week's special guest: Connecticut Republican Senate hopeful Alan Schlesinger.

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

Podcast Update: Ron Elving, apparently sick and tired over my obsession with the Connecticut Senate race, says he "wants to spend more time with his family." Thus, in this week's "It's All Politics" podcast, I'm joined instead by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea, who will explain why George W. Bush is clearly the most popular president since Bill Clinton. Don't forget, new edition of the podcast goes up every Thursday at noon. Check out the podcast page on the NPR Web site for more details. P.S. Remember, if Gonyea's career suddenly begins to fall apart, you'll know why.

By the way, for those who say that no one listens to the podcast or reads this column – such as me – this email arrived earlier in the week from Glenn Schmid of Phoenix, Ariz For the most part, it's pretty complimentary:

"Just a quick note to say I've subscribed to the 'It's All Politics' podcast, and I've been listening to them from Episode I on. I'm currently on the July 20th edition and I've enjoyed each one. I'm looking forward to the run-up to the upcoming presidential race with both the podcast and your column (and of course the weekly TOTN appearances). Yes, I'm a glutton for political pun-ishment.

"Speaking of which, your humor continues to be impressively awful. My wife's taste in humor (or lack of same) being what it is, this is probably going to preclude you from being invited to dinner at our house any time in the near future.

"You keep talking, I'll keep listening."

This Day in Campaign History: Sen. John Tower (R-TX), who when he succeeded Lyndon Johnson in 1961 became the first Texas Republican elected to the Senate since Reconstruction, announces his retirement (Aug. 23, 1983).

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

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