HARTFORD, Conn.—Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., found himself a political orphan Wednesday.
His friends, liberal activists and his party's leaders all seemed to turn against him the day after Connecticut Democrats rejected his bid for a fourth term and voted for an antiwar activist instead. Republicans, unsurprisingly, said the vote exposed Democrats as cowards.
For his part, Lieberman vowed to wage an independent campaign to hold his seat regardless of pressure to drop out and endorse Democratic nominee Ned Lamont.
"My mind is made up," Lieberman said on NBC. "I'm going forward. I'm going forward because I'm fed up with all the partisanship in Washington that stops us from getting anything done."
Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who had supported Lieberman until he lost, called Lamont to offer support and campaign contributions.
Liberal blogger David Sirota urged party leaders to strip Lieberman of his Senate committee assignments if he persists in running against Lamont.
Democratic Party leaders found good tidings in Lieberman's defeat.
"The perception was that he was too close to George Bush and this election was, in many respects, a referendum on the president more than anything else," said a statement issued jointly by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate Democrats' leader, and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
They called Lieberman an "effective" senator, but added that "the results bode well for Democratic victories in November."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he liked Lieberman, but he, too, saw his defeat as a good sign for Democrats because it meant that voters are angry enough to vote out incumbents—and there are more Republican incumbents than Democrats.
He linked Lieberman's loss to primary defeats Tuesday by two other incumbents—Reps. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., and Joe Schwarz, R-Mich.
But while Lieberman's loss did underscore the power of antiwar and anti-Bush anger among Democrats, two independent analysts said the party leaders overreached in claiming a nationwide move against incumbents.
Amy Walter, who analyzes House of Representatives races for the Cook Political Report, said McKinney lost because of a history of erratic behavior and a recent confrontation with a Capitol Police officer. "If you have any political baggage, this is not a year in which you can stow it in the overhead bin and hope nobody will notice," she said.
She said Lieberman and Schwarz lost because of ideological splits in their parties more than anti-incumbent fever, noting that no other incumbent House Democrats appear likely to lose.
Stuart Rothenberg, the editor of the independent Rothenberg Political Report, agreed that Democrats are angry at Bush and the war, and he said that energy would help them in the fall. But he, too, disputed the notion of a national Lieberman effect.
"We saw where the heart and soul of the Democratic Party is. It's against the war and angry at the president," Rothenberg said. "But it's Connecticut. It's a liberal state. And we're talking about Joe Lieberman, who is almost unique in cozying up to the president and criticizing those who criticize the president.
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"Democrats in the Northeast are more liberal and are holding their candidates to a higher standard. The Democratic base in the South and Midwest is of a different ilk. There's no message for Senator Ben Nelson," a Nebraska Democrat.
Republicans claimed their own victory from the Democratic primary. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman issued a statement labeled "Weak and wrong: Today's Defeat-ocrats."
It said in part: "It speaks volumes about the new Democrat Party: if you stand for a strong defense and victory in the War on Terror, you have no place in the party and you must be purged. ... Watch how the new Democrat Party always chooses weakness over strength, blaming America first."
White House press secretary Tony Snow saw Lieberman's defeat this way:
"This is a defining moment in some ways for the Democratic Party. I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president; I would flip it. I think instead it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060809 LIEBERMAN poll and 20060809 Lamont bio
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