HARTFORD, Conn.—Sen. Joseph Lieberman was defeated in a stunning primary upset Tuesday as Democrats rejected his support of the Iraq war and cordial embrace of President Bush.
One of the country's most prominent Democrats, Lieberman, 64, was defeated by millionaire and political novice Ned Lamont, 52.
Lieberman's loss of the Democratic nomination ended a three-decade career inside the party that started with his first election win in 1970 and culminated six years ago to the day when Al Gore chose him as the party's 2000 vice presidential candidate. He ran for president on his own in 2004, but failed to win a primary.
His failure to win nomination for a fourth Senate term made Lieberman 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 as an independent in the general election if he lost the primary.
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 effect 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.
"Voters want change and leaders who will stand up for ending the war. The lesson is, you get too close to President Bush, you get burned."
Republicans also were expected to assert a national mandate in the vote, namely that Democrats were purging their already small hawkish wing and returning to the reflexive anti-war days of George McGovern. They hoped that would make the Democrats appear weak and boost their own prospects for holding Congress this fall.
Not every lesson learned in Connecticut can fairly 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.
Yet supporters of the war with an eye on the 2008 presidential nomination and a primary season likely to be dominated by liberal activists have increased their criticism of Bush, including Clinton. 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's 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.
Drawn to the race despite its mid-summer date, 29,000 people registered to vote as Democrats in recent months.
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-Aug. 6 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
But 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 often was at odds with his party or some of its constituencies.
He supported school vouchers, driving teachers unions to oppose him and help Lamont. He questioned affirmative action, raising questions among African-Americans despite his work on civil rights. He worked on a Senate compromise that allowed some of Bush's judicial nominees to be confirmed while preserving the Democrats' right to filibuster. He supported congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo death case in Florida.
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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