Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Should Lieberman Jump The Dem Ship?

Sen. Joe Lieberman weighs starting a petition drive to get on the ballot as an Independent.

Lieberman's campaign contends that it's focused only on winning the Aug. 8 primary, but the Democrat has not ruled out petitioning his way onto the November ballot as part of a backup plan to secure a fourth term in the Senate.

"I am not going to close out any options," the senator recently told reporters.

Lieberman's spokeswoman, Marion Steinfels, said he is "already the party's endorsed candidate and on Aug. 8 he will win the primary, the Democratic primary."

Lieberman has until Aug. 9 — the day after the Democratic primary — to collect 7,500 signatures from registered voters to gain a spot on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.

Does it make sense for Lieberman to do this? The article cites poll data which indicates that Democratic primary challenger Ned Lamont has narrowed the gap between his support from registered Democrats and Lieberman's, from 65%-19% a month ago to 57%-32%. In contrast, the more recent poll indicates, Lieberman running as an Independent would likely capture 56% of the vote to 18% for Lamont and 8% for the Republican candidate.

Lamont's gain--and his potential to continue the momentum--must really have Lieberman worried if he's seriously considering the Independent option, which does indeed seem to be the best choice if "guaranteed" political survival is the main goal, especially in a state where the largest chunk of voters are unaffiliated.

Still, something doesn't quite sit right with me about this. Wouldn't this move indeed pretty much validate the criticism of Lieberman as not a "real" Democrat, and certainly not a "loyal" party man? A professor quoted in the article says such a move won't bother voters all that much, since party loyalty among the electorate isn't that important of a value anymore. But what about after the election? How would Lieberman's changed status--and the obvious reason behind it--affect his position in the Senate and how well he can serve his constituents? Because party loyalty does matter to politicians, right?

The other thing that's a bit wince-inducing for me is the picture of Lieberman running a drive for the signatures need to put him on the ballot as an Independent in the main election at the very same time he'll need to be campaigning--and hard--to win the Democratic primary on Aug. 8. Not so much because it might make Lieberman appear "weak," as the article suggests, or even underconfident, but more because it almost makes him look a bit of the bully. I mean, in effect, isn't he telling registered Democrats that it doesn't really matter what they do or what they want, he's going to be their next Senator, come hell or high water?

I'd be interested if Cal has any historical parallels or insights into this one.

Update: As far as my question goes regarding how Lieberman's position in the Senate would be affected by election as an Independent, here's one indication that the answer my be "not much": Sen. Chuck Schumer seems to be reassuring Lieberman that there wouldn't necessarily be any fallout. Another Hotline on Call post discusses potential financial support issues for an Independent Lieberman candidacy and also notes Kos' displeasure with the situation.