Lieberman Still Frontrunner

Republican pollster Rob Autry* contends that Joe Lieberman remains the odds-on favorite to retain his Senate seat despite being beaten in his own party primary and holding a narrow lead in the latest three-way polls.

The key to winning Connecticut is not winning Democrats…it’s winning moderates. After all, Republicans do hold three of the five Congressional Districts in the state and Governor Rell (a Republican) is up 21 points on the gubernatorial ballot, despite only getting 36% among Democrat voters. Lamont is only polling 38% among moderate voters and his image is a divisive 48% favorable – 46% unfavorable with them. By comparison, Average Joe is getting 50% of the moderate vote and has a two-to-one favorable image with these voters (67% fav – 33% unfav).

While Lamont’s win in the primary seemed unthinkable to me two months ago, it remains true that he won a narrow victory among the most rabidly liberal, anti-war element of the Connecticut electorate. And eighty percent of Lieberman’s primary voters told exit pollsters they would stick with him in the general election, regardless of which ballot line he occupied.

Lieberman simply has more upside, able to draw from those whose loyalty he’s earned through a lifetime of public service, moderate Democrats, unaffiliated moderates, and Republicans willing to cross the aisles. Lamont, on the other hand, would seem relegated to only his base. The latest Rasmussen survey shows, “Lieberman still attracts 35% of votes from Democrats. Lamont will have to find a way to trim that number without alienating unaffiliated voters. Lieberman is viewed at least somewhat favorably by 65% of unaffiliated voters compared to 49% for Lamont.” Turnout for the general election will be high given the fervor over this race. That means moderates, those most likely to sit out most elections, will be out in force. That bodes well for Lieberman.

The key question to me is the extent that Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger remains a nuisance candidate. Presumably, with the Republican establishment at least tacitly behind Lieberman, most will vote for him rather than risk having Lamont win. Still, some not-insignificant number of Republican die-hards will vote for their party ticket regardless of the fact he can’t win and, as one of Autry’s commenters notes, he’s arguably more liberal than Lieberman. Schlesinger can’t win but he can help determine the winner.

*Disclosure: As previously noted, Autry is a friend of mine as well as a colleague of my wife’s at Public Opinion Strategies.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. SoloD says:

    The real key is whether Lamont can show some depth, or is just a one trick pony. If Lamont shows that he has some mastery of other issues, like taxes or health care, and that he is not just a knee jerk liberal, then Lieberman might be in some real trouble.

  2. Christopher says:

    I wonder: is anyone thinking that Lieberman will switch to being a republican if he wins? It seems his own party hates him. But I wonder if we republicans even want him…

  3. James Joyner says:

    Christopher: I’ve wondered that myself. He says he’ll caucus as a Democrat and feel compelled to take him at his word. Still, if he wins despite the Democratic Establishment and grassroots working against him, I don’t see how he stays with them.

  4. Mark says:

    My guess is Lieberman caucuses with whatever party offers him the greater power position.

    If the GOP keeps the Senate but it is razor-thin, I could see him caucusing with the GOP if he is given a chairmanship of some committee. But he will not join the GOP, rather he will remain an independent like Jeffords did.

  5. McGehee says:

    If the GOP keeps the Senate but it is razor-thin, I could see him caucusing with the GOP if he is given a chairmanship of some committee.But he will not join the GOP, rather he will remain an independent like Jeffords did.

    If he’s planning to model himself after Jeffords he might as well drop out now.