What Happens After Lieberman Loses?
Stuart Rothenberg challenges the conventional wisdom that Joe Lieberman is a shoe-in for re-election if, as now looks likely, he loses to Ned Lamont in Tuesday’s primary.
A resounding Lamont victory would make it very difficult for Democratic elected officials (and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to stick with Lieberman in a three-way general election.
The primary result would create an entirely new dynamic in the race, undercutting Lieberman’s support for an Independent bid and putting pressure on him to exit the race gracefully. That doesn’t mean that the Senator couldn’t win a three-way race, only that early polls showing him with a commanding advantage in a three-way contest are meaningless.
While I agree that the early polls are meaningless, their basis remains sound: Lamont is a candidate who appeals mostly to the anti-Lieberman camp that seems to be dominating the Connecticut Democratic primary electorate. It’s hardly clear that general election voters previously disposed to vote for Lieberman would jump ship simply because of a primary result. Nor do endorsements necessarily matter, especially for someone with Lieberman’s name ID.
Rothenburg is likely right, though, about the larger dynamic:
Lamont’s victory, however, would not be without its downside for Democrats, since it would only embolden the crazies in the party, a consideration not lost on other Democratic elected officials and strategists.
Lieberman’s defeat is likely to add to the partisanship and bitterness that divides the country and Capitol Hill, and to generate more media attention to grassroots bomb-throwers who, down the road, are likely to make the party less appealing to swing voters and moderates.
There’s enough genuine discontent with Lieberman, mostly on the war, that chalking up a defeat entirely to “crazies” is unfair. Still, there’s no doubt that a Lamont victory would have been fueled almost entirely by the rabid elements in the base, notably the so-called Netroots. They would certainly be emboldened if they finally got a win and the no-holds-barred, vitriolic approach many of those blogs take would no doubt find its way into the mainstream. Indeed, as the Jane Hamsher blackface kerfuffle demonstrates, it already has.