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Lieberman’s 2012 Race Calculus Is Big Mystery

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Sen. Joe Lieberman was elected in 2006 as an Independent, but he still caucuses with Democrats. He isn’t likely to fare as well running as an Independent in a three-way contest in 2012.

Sen. Joe Lieberman faces no easy road to victory in 2012.

Connecticut political players on both sides of the aisle — including a key Lieberman ally — said the Independent who caucuses with Democrats cannot win another three-way race, as in 2006 after he lost the Nutmeg State’s Democratic primary. There is also consensus that Lieberman would struggle to win a contested primary for either party’s nomination should he ultimately decide to abandon his Independent label.

A spokeswoman for the four-term Senator last week declined to answer specific questions about her boss’s plans, saying that he is focused on the legislative work ahead and not on an election two years down the road.

But the reality is that speculation about Lieberman’s 2012 plans is already high in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., political circles. He has yet to announce whether he will run again or where his allegiance would lie.

“No one knows what Joe’s going to do. It’s the biggest mystery in Connecticut,” said John Droney, a longtime Lieberman ally and former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party. “But he says he’s inclined to run.”

Lieberman’s two most logical options would be to run again as an Independent or to seek the Democratic nomination and then run as an Independent if he’s unsuccessful in the primary.

He was successful in 2006 because even though he was running as an Independent he became the de facto Republican. The GOP fielded a weak candidate in Alan Schlesinger, a state lawmaker and perennial Congressional candidate, who earned just 10 percent of the vote.

“The Republican candidate this time will be supported and stronger. And any Republican who gets over 25 percent of the vote, there’s no way Lieberman can win as an Independent,” Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy said, noting that the list of possible contenders includes recently defeated Senate candidate Linda McMahon, businessman Christopher Meek, former Rep. Rob Simmons and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, who narrowly lost.

Simmons said he is still deeply disappointed by his party’s performance in 2010, particularly in losing the contest against Sen.-elect Richard Blumenthal. Simmons was the frontrunner in that race before losing the support of the Washington establishment and his state party.

“I continue to be proud to be a Connecticut Republican. I don’t know what the future will bring,” Simmons told Roll Call on Friday, declining to rule out anything for 2012. “I will continue to seek opportunities to be of service.”

He said Lieberman, who had $1.3 million on hand as of Sept. 30, is vulnerable.

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