“Lieberman’s poll numbers were disastrous in Connecticut. His decision to quit in the face of assured defeat is a huge victory for the progressive movement and all Americans who want Democrats to put regular families ahead of corporate interests,” said Keauna Gregory, senior field organizer with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Gregory was already on the ground in Connecticut “ready to pounce” on Lieberman should he run, the liberal group said.
White it alienated the left, Lieberman’s independence also allowed him to wield tremendous power at times. Aside from the committee chairmanship, he served as Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential contest and was on a short list to do the same for the McCain’s Republican ticket eight years later.
“Along the way, I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative,” Lieberman said Wednesday. “I have always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them.”
It’s unclear how the looming retirement will affect Lieberman’s allegiances on Capitol Hill in the coming two years. His 22-year career has already been marked by high-profile breaks with Democratic leaders. He has sided with Republicans on national security issues and invited the 2006 primary challenge by backing the Iraq War. But Lieberman supported President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and is generally a staunch liberal on social issues, such as the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which he helped champion during the recent lame-duck session.
Such votes alienated Connecticut Republicans, who were a key to his success in the 2006 race that featured a GOP candidate who was little more than a placeholder.
State GOP chairman Chris Healy told Roll call on Tuesday that Lieberman would have had difficulty winning Republican support going forward. He noted that both independently wealthy wrestling executive Linda McMahon and the narrowly defeated gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley would have far greater appeal than Lieberman among Connecticut’s relatively small bloc of Republican voters.
Both Republicans have left open the possibility of running for Lieberman’s seat, although neither has yet to commit.
In some ways, Lieberman’s retirement would improve Democrats’ chances of holding the seat. Three-way races are notoriously difficult to gauge.
In a two-way race, however, Democrats hold a significant registration advantage, Obama carried the state by more than 20 points in 2008, and McMahon failed to win a 2010 Senate race, despite favorable conditions and having spent more than $50 million from her own pocket.
Given Lieberman’s retirement, Roll Call Politics changed Connecticut’s Senate race rating to Leans Democratic from the more competitive Tossup category.
In the end, however, Lieberman said his decision had little to do with politics.