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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.

“He has a problem. He is representing a blue state in the U.S. Senate as an Independent. He is neither fish nor fowl, if you will,” Simmons said, noting that Democrats are sure to put up a quality candidate.

High on the list of Democrats to watch are Rep. Christopher Murphy and Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late Senator and an investment banker who helped top-of-the-ticket Connecticut Democrats this cycle. Murphy has been viewed as preparing for a Senate bid since he was first elected to the House in 2006, when he knocked off Rep. Nancy Johnson (R).

“Certainly, any of our Congressional candidates have the capability of stepping up,” Connecticut Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said. “But two years is a long way off, and a lot can happen. We don’t even know if [Lieberman] is running. We don’t know if he’s seeking the Democratic nomination.”

Lieberman, who is still registered as a Democrat, would have trouble in a contested primary with either party.

It’s no secret Connecticut Democrats harbor lingering resentment over Lieberman’s defection in 2006 and for backing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking at the 2008 GOP convention and doing debate prep with then-Alaska Gov.  Sarah Palin (R).

Just 22 percent of Connecticut voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2008 approved of Lieberman’s job performance in a survey released Oct. 30 by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. He was far more popular among Republicans, earning a favorable rating from 54 percent of 2008 McCain supporters.

“He won’t get the Democratic nomination. That’s controlled by those who play in deep left field,” Droney said. “The people who play in deep left field are still smarting from what happened last time. ... It’ll be payback.”

But it seems that switching parties to run as a Republican is the least practical of Lieberman’s three options. He would have to give up his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gavel immediately, and since Republicans are still in the minority they have nothing comparable to guarantee him in the short term.

Lieberman also aided the Democratic cause in 2010, helping to make sure Democrats retained control of the chamber and thus ensuring he wouldn’t lose his gavel.

But, Droney said becoming a Republican in the near future could help him in 2012.

“He’d probably be best off running as a Republican as far as getting re-elected,” said Droney, who stays in regular contact with Lieberman and encouraged him to run as an Independent in 2006. “I’d recommend him doing it now.”

From a political standpoint, however, the fact that the 2010 race between McMahon and Blumenthal ended up being a blowout should be part of Lieberman’s calculus as well. Democrats running statewide would likely fare even better in a presidential election year.

Healy, the state GOP chairman, made it clear his party doesn’t want Lieberman even if he were interested in a switch.

“I like Joe personally. But with the exception of the issue of terrorism, he is every bit as liberal as” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Healy said. “I don’t anticipate him joining the Republican Party, certainly not at our invite.”

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