WEST HARTFORD, Conn.—Cheryl Curtiss is a lifelong Democrat who's always voted for Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., in his long and celebrated career.
But like a lot of Democrats, she's against the Iraq war and fed up with him for supporting it. That he seems to get along with President Bush only makes it worse.
"I will never vote for him again," said Curtiss, a public school administrator from West Hartford. " The way he supports the war and Bush disgusts me."
When she gets her chance in the Aug. 8 primary, she's voting for the anti-war, anti-Bush and anti-Lieberman challenger, millionaire Ned Lamont. Should their side prevail—and it's difficult to predict who'll turn out to vote on an August Tuesday—they would turn the three-term senator and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee into the highest-profile political casualty of the unpopular war.
"It raises some larger questions about the Democratic Party," Lieberman said in an interview. "I'm in a ... proud and successful tradition in our party, Democrats who are progressive on domestic policy and strong and idealistic on foreign policy," he said, mentioning names such as Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Hubert H. Humphrey and Henry "Scoop" Jackson.
"That combination is an important part of the history of the Democratic Party. Unless it's adequately represented in the future of our party, our party is not going to gain the confidence of the people to govern again, which I dearly want it to do."
Lieberman voted in October 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, like many fellow Democrats including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Unlike Kerry, however, he still supports the war. Unlike Clinton, he refuses to temper his support with criticism of the way Bush has waged it.
"While dissent about the war is critically important and American, partisan dissent has no place when it comes to our national security, particularly when we have 130,000 Americans over there in uniform," he said. "So I refuse to take partisan shots at the president or anybody else about the war."
Critics like Curtiss and others interviewed here note quickly that Lieberman not only refuses to criticize Bush, he appears to embrace him. Everyone has seen photos of Bush hugging or possibly even kissing Lieberman on the cheek at a State of the Union address.
They also know that Lieberman, even while amassing a solidly Democratic record on such issues as the environment, has jabbed the occasional finger in the eye of his party, or at least its left eye.
Gloria Jasieniecki, a high school teacher from West Hartford, said she turned against Lieberman primarily because of the war, but she already disliked his support of school vouchers.
She also dismissed Lieberman's endorsement from the big abortion-rights groups NARAL, Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood's political action committee, noting that he worked with 13 other centrist senators of both parties to clear the way for conservatives such as Samuel Alito to make it to the Supreme Court while preserving the Democrats' right to filibuster, or block, other nominations.
"He's become too closely tied to the Republicans," she said. "I voted for him last time because there wasn't any other choice. This time I have a choice."
The alternative is Lamont, heir to a one-time partner of banking giant J.P Morgan. After casting about unsuccessfully for an anti-war candidate to challenge Lieberman, he decided to do it himself.
He's financed much of his own campaign. Once he got it going, the cause was picked up by liberal bloggers such as DailyKos, and it now draws campaign checks from the likes of actress Barbra Streisand, TV producer Norman Lear and financier George Soros.
"I'm running because I don't think staying the course is a winning strategy in Iraq, and it's not a winning strategy in America," Lamont told about 50 people at a senior center. "I'm not going to play footsie with the Bush administration."
In his stump speech, Lamont criticizes Bush much more than Lieberman.
"I'm running against both because I don't think Senator Lieberman challenges President Bush on the big issues of the day," Lamont said in an interview. "And I think he sometimes goes out of the way to undermine the Democrats."
Who will win is difficult to say.
If he doesn't win the primary, Lieberman said he'd run in the general election as an independent candidate. He said his polling shows he has the support of a majority of Democrats—but he doesn't know how many will bother to vote on August 8. He recently beefed up his get-out-the-vote effort.
"It's all about getting people out. For those who are against the war, this is their chance to send a message. They're more motivated," said Mark Benigni, the Democratic mayor of Meriden, Conn., and a Lieberman supporter. "It's definitely a battle."
For more on the Lieberman campaign: www.joe2006.com
For more on the Lamont campaign: www.nedlamont.com
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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