HARTFORD, Conn.—One of the most prominent Democrats in the country, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, faced the threat of rejection from his own party Tuesday over his support of the Iraq war and his often-warm embrace of President Bush.
Lieberman, 64, found himself the surprise underdog in his bid for a fourth term, behind millionaire and political novice Ned Lamont, 52. The polls closed at 8 p.m. EDT. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, Lamont had 120,616 votes; Lieberman had 111,887.
Chosen six years ago Tuesday to be the party's vice presidential candidate by nominee Al Gore, Lieberman ran for the presidential nomination himself in 2004 but didn't win.
He would be the most prominent Democrat defeated in a primary since Sen. William Fulbright of Arkansas was defeated in 1974.
Trailing in the polls in recent days, Lieberman said he would run in the general election as an independent if he lost the primary. Aides backpedaled, however, on whether he would follow through.
The primary clash was watched nationwide for signs of how strong the anti-war movement has grown in the Democratic Party, how that might shape the 2006 election for control of Congress and how it could affect Democrats eyeing the 2008 presidential campaign.
"The way voters responded in Connecticut is a real bellwether for the fall elections," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director for the liberal group Moveon.org Political Action, which worked to defeat Lieberman.
Not every lesson learned in Connecticut will be applied nationally, however.
Seven other Senate Democrats who voted to authorize the Iraq war also are up for re-election this year. None, including Lieberman's next-door neighbor, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., faced a strong anti-war primary challenge.
But even supporters of the war, such as Clinton, have increased their criticism of Bush. Other potential 2008 presidential candidates, including Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have urged withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq or setting a timetable for withdrawal.
On Sunday, Lieberman used what he called a closing argument that appeared to temper his support for the war and Bush. He noted that he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and that he has frequently opposed Bush on other issues.
His once-assured renomination for a fourth Senate term hit troubles as Lamont focused his campaign on Lieberman's support for the war—and his refusal to criticize Bush's conduct of the war. Lamont financed much of his early campaign himself and, as he gained in the polls, was helped by contributions from anti-war Democrats around the country.
Lieberman closed in on Lamont in the polls in recent days, moving from 13 percentage points behind last Thursday to 6 points back on Sunday.
He was the favored candidate among those with no college degree, those making less than $50,000 a year and moderates and conservatives, according to the pre-primary poll by Quinnipiac University. The survey of 784 likely voters was conducted July 31 to Aug. 6 and had a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.5 percentage points. Lamont led among those with college degrees, those making more than $50,000, and liberals. He also led among men; women split evenly.
The Iraq war was the main factor in choosing a candidate for 36 percent of the likely voters. It was "only one reason" for 54 percent.
Iraq wasn't the sole issue in Connecticut, however.
Lieberman was conservative on other issues as well. He supported congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo death case in Florida. He also supported school vouchers, which drove teachers' unions to oppose him and help Lamont.
Arguably even worse, he was caught on camera being hugged and perhaps kissed on the cheek by Bush at a State of the Union address.
The last day of the often-bitter Connecticut contest was marked by charges of campaign dirty tricks when Lieberman's Web site crashed. He accused Lamont supporters of sabotaging it. Lamont denied any role, and pro-Lamont bloggers said Lieberman's Web site was an inexpensive operation prone to collapse.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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