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Connecticut Democrats are already starting to line up to challenge Sen. Joe Lieberman, who will announce his decision on whether to seek re-election Wednesday afternoon in Stamford.
The Democrats are offering Republicans a glimmer of hope that a crowded and contentious Democratic primary could allow the GOP to steal a Senate seat in the deep-blue Nutmeg State.
Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) formally entered the race Tuesday, shrugging off a problematic 2010 cycle that left her out of statewide office for the first time in more than a decade. And Rep. Christopher Murphy, who some Democrats believe to be their strongest challenger, may follow Bysiewicz “very soon.”
“My interest in running for Senate in 2012 is well known in the state, and I expect to announce my decision very soon,” Murphy said in a statement provided by his office Tuesday. “All I can say now is that this is going to be a pretty busy few weeks.”
Murphy, entering his third House term, is coming off a surprisingly competitive 2010 re-election bid. He defeated Republican challenger Sam Caligiuri by less than 9 points, spending $3 million in the process. That left just under $105,000 in his campaign account as of late November.
Bysiewicz reported roughly the same amount — $113,000 — on hand at the end of December.
“I am running for the U.S. Senate for the same reason I first entered public service: because I want this state to be a better place for my children and yours,” Bysiewicz said in a statement released Tuesday. “We need a Senator who is 100 percent focused on helping our state, and Sen. Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut.”
Lieberman, a 68-year-old Independent who caucuses with Democrats, has yet to announce his intentions for 2012. Wednesday’s announcement follows two Senate retirements in recent days. Should the four-term Senator decide to run again, it’s unclear whether he would affiliate with any party. Most recently, he said he was leaning toward running as an Independent.
Meanwhile, Bysiewicz released internal polling Tuesday showing that she leads in a hypothetical Democratic primary against Murphy and Edward Kennedy Jr., in addition to leading a prospective three-way general election matchup against Lieberman and unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate Linda McMahon (R).
Bysiewicz had strong job approval figures despite a 2010 cycle that saw her abandon an exploratory gubernatorial campaign in favor of the attorney general’s office. And just days before the Democratic nominating conference, the state Supreme Court blocked her attorney general candidacy, ruling that she lacked the necessary legal experience.
The problems did little to shake voters’ confidence in her, according to Democratic pollster Jill Normington, who surveyed 700 registered Connecticut voters Dec. 13-16 — including a smaller sample of 433 likely Democratic primary voters. The margin of error for both surveys was 4.9 points.
In the prospective primary matchup, Bysiewicz led with 33 percent, compared with Murphy and Kennedy, who each earned 26 percent. In the general, she received 34 percent of the likely vote, leading Lieberman (30 percent) and McMahon (30 percent).
The state Republican Party was almost giddy in a press release issued in the wake of Bysiewicz’s announcement.
“After being declared unqualified to serve as Attorney General by the State Supreme Court and a disastrous display of incompetence as Secretary of the State on Election Day 2010, private attorney Bysiewicz has decided the U.S. Senate will be the next stop on her political fantasy tour,” GOP Chairman Chris Healy said in the release.
In a subsequent interview with Roll Call, Healy said this could be the beginning of a bitter Democratic primary battle.
“Who knows if it’s a two-way primary, a three-way primary, or a four-way primary?” he said, adding that he was optimistic his party could take Lieberman’s seat, regardless of whether the challenger was McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, or recent gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley.
But acknowledging the GOP’s massive registration disadvantage, Healy said that Connecticut Republicans would be best served by avoiding a divisive primary of their own.
“It would be our hope collectively, and it would serve our interests, if we could agree on a candidate and not go through a potentially scalding convention or primary,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers to come back from a race that could divide our resources.”
Roll Call rates Lieberman’s race as a Tossup.