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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. A good analysis, I think.

    As an aside, it seems to me that an interesting question to ask right now is what effect the current goings-on in Lebanon/Israel is going to have on the Lieberman Election? As one of America’s most prominent Jewish politicians, it seems to me that it must have some kind of effect, but I don’t know enough about the Connecticuit electorate to make any kind of assessment – although it could be related to why he’s falling behind in the polls.

  2. Dean Esmay says:

    It’s time to make Jane Hamsher, as well as Markos himself, Ned Lamont’s running mates. It’s what they are after all.

    Indeed, in the runup to November, it’s going to be important for every Democratic politician who ever cozied up to these people to have every vicious and hateful thing they ever posted thrown in their faces.

    These “netroots” fascists are a genuine threat to one of our country’s greatest and most important institutions: the Democratic Party. Time they be exposed.

  3. Bithead says:

    What happens after Liberman loses?

    The Democrats lose the general election.

    The reason’s simple enough. Lamont may placate the far left nutjobs, but will be too far left for the general population of evena Democrat stronghold like Connecticut.

  4. Brian says:

    This is something I was initally concerned about. But if you read the polls, you will see that there is almost no chance of this happening. In a 3-way race, the Republican often polls in the teens. The reality is that his far-left views on the war are now shared by most people, especially in the Democratic stronghold of Connecticut. There is no question that either Lieberman or Lamont will take this race. And it seems increasingly likely that we will see Senator Lamont.

  5. Bithead says:

    You’re forgetting that the reason Liberman has been doing so well all this time is because of the number of Republicans that went cross-lines to vote for him.

    Not gonna hapen with Lamont. And Lamont has already turned off what Sane Democrats are left. All he’s got is the far left. That’s not enough to win election.