From The Morning Grind
After months of trading jabs in the press, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) and businessman Ned Lamont face off in their first debate tonight in what has become the most talked about primary contest of 2006.
While Lieberman leads in the polls, Lamont has built a credible challenge to the three term incumbent by criticizing Lieberman's support for the Iraq war. Fueled by the "netroots" and his own personal fortune, Lamont has forced Lieberman to invest heavily into campaigning for re-election and just this week the Connecticut Senator acknowledged there is a chance he might lose the Democratic primary. Even if he loses on Aug. 8, Lieberman has vowed to run an independent campaign in November.
Tonight, Lamont is likely to focus on Iraq as well as criticize Lieberman for being too close to President Bush, while the Connecticut Senator is expected to highlight his long legislative record. The debate is being televised in Connecticut on Hartford's NBC affiliate and nationally on C-SPAN. The Hartford station is allowing viewers to pose a question to the candidates
Should Lieberman lose and run an independent campaign, it could be a lonely affair. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and now John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) have declared they would support the Democratic nominee in November, while Democratic leaders have not committed to backing Lieberman in he loses in August. Feingold, in a recent interview on Meet the Press, said he would not get involved in the primary and a Kerry spokeswoman released a statement this morning indicating the Massachusetts Democrat, too, would stay neutral.
"Since he has made his personal mission for 2006 electing veterans to the House and Senate, he's likewise only taken sides in Democratic primaries to back candidates who are veterans," said Amy Brundage, Kerry's spokeswoman. "His view: Connecticut Democrats will choose the Democratic Senate nominee, and John Kerry will support him."
Clinton and Democratic leaders are supporting Lieberman in the primary, but the New York Democrat said earlier this week she would support whoever wins the Democratic nomination in November. Other Democrats are taking an active role in trying to make sure Lieberman is re-elected. The Associated Press reports that Sens. Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) plan to visit Connecticut to campaign on Lieberman's behalf in the coming month.
Still Republicans, who are often accused of turning on their own, are finding great pleasure in the Democratic Party infighting. Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, noted that the GOP leadership is totally committed to re-electing Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island), who often votes with Democrats.
"Rather than letting our incumbent blow in the wind, we are publicly supporting Senator Chafee's re-election, including financially," Nick said.
Nick noted that if Lieberman loses the primary and launches an independent bid, then the NRSC might consider sending some money to the likely Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger.
"We would be foolish not to re-evaluate a potential three-way contest and how this looks for putting the seat in the Republican column," he said. "It would certainly put this race into a different category."
Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, dismissed the NRSC's talk of investing in this race.
"Considering how much money they got in the bank, it is not much of a threat," he said. "This is the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass."
Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said he thinks the NRSC is "bluffing" about spending money in Connecticut adding that "their money will be needed elsewhere.
"Republicans will be spending the bulk of their money defending seven of their own incumbents and an open seat before they even think about taking over a Democratic seat," Gonzales said.
For his part, Schlesinger tells the Grind that in a three way general election contest, "I become almost the frontrunner." Schlesinger, a former mayor of Derby and state Representative, so far has failed to catch on with Connecticut voters and will report having raised only $100,000 to $150,000 later this month. But Schlesinger said he will match each contribution up to $500,000 and claimed that should help him reach the $1 million mark by Sept. 30.
"Our game plan is to get Republicans to support us over Lieberman," he said. "When they come home to our camp it will further weaken Lieberman to get us within striking distance of 37 percent," he said.
But Schlesinger acknowledged that if Lieberman wins the primary the odds of him winning drop dramatically.
"If it is not a three way race, it is a tough road," he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in June shows that 87 percent of Connecticut voters had not heard enough about Schlesinger to form an opinion.