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Richardson calls on Lieberman to step aside

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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson calls Sen. Joe Lieberman "a good friend" but says he should leave the race.

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(CNN) -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson became the first prominent national Democrat to call on Sen. Joe Lieberman to drop his independent bid for re-election in Connecticut.

Richardson, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and a possible 2008 White House contender, called Lieberman "a good friend of mine" and a "true public servant."

But he said in a statement Thursday that he was backing Ned Lamont, the man who defeated Lieberman in this week's Democratic primary.

"I look forward to supporting Ned as he fights to help Democrats take back the Senate, and I call on Joe Lieberman to respect the will of the voters and step aside," Richardson said.

Lieberman lost Tuesday's primary to Lamont, a millionaire cable executive, 52 percent to 48 percent.

After Lieberman's loss, other prominent Democrats -- including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Chuck Schumer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dick Durbin, John Kerry and Christopher Dodd -- announced they would back Lamont in the race. But they had stopped short of directly asking Lieberman to drop his independent candidacy.

Lieberman has insisted that he's in the race to stay. He told CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday that he was not surprised that many of his colleagues had decided to support Lamont.

"I expect most Democratic elected officials to support the winner of the primary. They're following the old, traditional political rule," Lieberman said. " But I'm reaching out to the people."

A Quinnipiac University poll among registered voters in Connecticut in July found Lieberman leading a three-way matchup with Lamont and the GOP nominee, Alan Schlesinger.

Lieberman had 51 percent support in the poll, while 27 percent were for Lamont and 9 percent for Schlesinger. The sampling error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.

However, that poll was taken before Lieberman's loss to Lamont, fueled largely by the senator's steadfast support for the war in Iraq and President Bush's policy there.

Almost seven out of 10 Connecticut voters in the Quinnipiac poll disapproved of the president's job performance.

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