STAMFORD, Conn. — U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Wednesday that he would step down after four terms not because he faced a tough campaign for a fifth, but simply because the time had come for him to change direction.
"I have decided it is time to turn the page to a new chapter, and so I will not be a candidate for re-election to a fifth term in the U.S. Senate in 2012," Lieberman said. "This was not an easy decision for me to make because I have loved serving in the Senate and I feel good about what I have accomplished. But I know that it is the right decision and, I must say, having made it, am excited about beginning a new chapter of life with new opportunities.
"The reason I have decided not to run for re-election in 2012 is best expressed in the wise words from Ecclesiastes: 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.' At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in the U.S. Senate and 40 years in elective office. By my count, I have run at least 15 full-fledged political campaigns in Connecticut.
"For me, it is time for another season and another purpose under Heaven," he said.
He took the podium at the Stamford Marriott at 12:44 p.m. EST and finished shortly after 1 p.m.
The Marriott ballroom was filled with local and national media and a scattering of Lieberman supporters. Banks of television cameras lined the back of the room, a testament to Lieberman's status as a national political figure.
Lieberman, once a popular Democrat who was the party's vice presidential nominee just a decade ago, alluded to his political troubles in his speech. His enthusiasm for the Iraq war turned off many Democrats and he lost the party's support in 2006. He ran for re-election anyway, an independent, and won. He further inflamed members of his former party by campaigning for his good friend, Sen. John McCain, during the 2008 presidential race.
Lieberman, 68, said he would continue in public service but did not say in what capacity. His term expires in two years.
Lieberman dismissed speculation that he would campaign for a fifth term because he thought he might lose.
"I know that some people have said that if I ran for re-election, it would be a difficult campaign for me. So what else is new? It probably would be a difficult campaign for me.
"But I have run many difficult campaigns before — from my first one in 1970 against the incumbent Democratic state senate majority leader, to my 1988 campaign against the incumbent Republican U.S. senator, to my campaign for re-election in 2006 to the Senate at the height of the controversy over the Iraq war. In all three of those elections, most observers and pollsters thought I would not win. But with an awful lot of help from independents, Democrats and Republicans — including many of you here today — in each case I did win.
"I've never shied from a good fight and I never will."
In a speech that was by turns reflective and feisty, Lieberman alluded to his independent — some would say contrarian — streak. "I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes — maybe you've noticed that? — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative," he said.
"Because I have always thought my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state and my country and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them."
Lieberman referenced Mark Twain and two of his most famous characters.
"One of my favorite metaphors for America's spirit and history comes from the great American novel written right here in Connecticut by Mark Twain, `The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' In that book, Huck and Jim ride the raft along the big river, that have always to me represented American history. In one sense, Huck and Jim could not be more different, but in another deeper sense, Huck and Jim were both Americans, unified by a common humanity and shared destiny as they traveled down the river. ...
"And it is the spirit that inspires hundreds of millions of seemingly ordinary Americans — the unsung heroes — who work hard and play by the rules every day — driven by a dream, inspired to imagine a tomorrow that is better than today, for themselves, most importantly their children, our country, and our world."
Lieberman, who won his fourth term in 2006 as an independent after losing the Democratic nomination in a primary to businessman Ned Lamont, made up his mind not to seek re-election around Thanksgiving but delayed a public announcement for a number of reasons, according to an aide in his office.
The senator, the aide said Tuesday night, wanted to wait until Congress had repealed the controversial don't ask, don't tell policy regarding gays and lesbians serving in the military, among other reasons.
Lieberman and his staff spent much of the day Tuesday calling supporters and longtime friends. Among those on the list: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
A couple of those Democrats said Tuesday that they thought the timing of the event and the tone of the behind-the-scenes conversations indicated that Lieberman wanted to announce that he would not be running while there was still speculation that he could win if he chose to run. In other words, they said, he can pull out of the 2012 race now — before being battered by attacks from opponents trying to unseat him and by continual announcements of polls that show him sinking ever further in his prospects.
Tuesday, Democrat Susan Bysiewicz — the former secretary of the state whose run for attorney general last year was marred by controversy and then cut short by a court ruling — announced that she would seek the party's nomination for Lieberman's seat.
The two announcements produced an explosion of political speculation and jockeying for a Senate election still nearly two years away.
Almost immediately, Rep, Chris Murphy, D-Conn., hinted that he would soon be opposing Bysiewicz in the race for the party's 2012 nomination. "My interest in running for Senate in 2012 is well known in the state, and I expect to announce my decision very soon," Murphy, who won re-election to a third term in November, said in a statement. "All I can say now is that this is going to be a pretty busy few weeks."
In addition, his fellow Democratic congressman, Rep. Joseph Courtney, said he's giving serious thought to seeking the nomination himself: "Over the past few months, people from across Connecticut whose advice I respect have encouraged me to consider a Senate run. I am seriously considering that challenge," Courtney said in a statement.
Also in play were the names of two high-profile, potential Republican candidates: Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling CEO who spent about $50 million of her own money in a losing bid last November for the U.S. Senate seat won by Democrat Richard Blumenthal; and Republican Tom Foley, who lost the gubernatorial election to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy.
Foley said, "People have asked me if I'd be interested, and I've just said I haven't ruled it out but I'm also not ruling it in." He added, "I would just hope the Republican Party gets together and picks the candidate who has the best chance of winning. It's an important seat."
(Altimari reports for the Hartford Courant. Jon Lender of the Courant staff contributed to this report.)