By Av Harris

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman fought for survival against challenger Ned Lamont on Tuesday in a Democratic Senate primary focused on Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war and his relationship with President George W. Bush.

Lieberman, a three-term senator and the Democratic vice presidential nominee just six years ago, scrambled to avoid a stunning defeat at the hands of a political unknown who has characterized the senator as a cheerleader for Bush and the war.

Lamont, whose last bid for office was an unsuccessful 1990 run for the state Senate, held a six-point lead over Lieberman in a poll released on Monday, down from a 13-point advantage in the same poll last week.

His outsider bid to unseat Lieberman in Democratic-leaning Connecticut could offer an early measure of anti-war sentiment among voters before November’s election, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.

Lieberman says he will run as an independent if he loses the primary, although a lopsided defeat would put pressure on him to step aside. Tuesday’s winner will face off in November against Republican Alan Schlesinger, a former state legislator who is seen as little threat in Connecticut.

Several well-known black leaders, including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Rep. Maxine Waters of California, will help get out the black vote for Lamont in a race that could turn on which side does a better job of getting supporters to the polls.

Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said she expects about 200,000 voters, including about 27,000 newly registered Democrats who can cast ballots in the Senate primary.

Independents and unaffiliated voters had until midday Monday to register as Democrats to vote in the Senate primary.

The Connecticut race has attracted national attention for its emphasis on the war and Democratic anger at Bush. Lamont cast the race as a referendum on the war and urged voters to send a message to Bush and the Democratic establishment that was slow to embrace calls for a quick pullout of troops.

Lieberman has fought back, emphasizing his Democratic credentials and calling himself a reliable opponent of Bush’s domestic agenda.

He argued on Sunday that a quick pullout of troops "would be a disaster for Iraqis and for us" but said the Bush administration had made mistakes in its conduct of the war.

Lamont has called Lieberman an enabler of Bush and a Bush "lapdog." Lieberman wrote a Wall Street Journal article last year headlined "Our Troops Must Stay" and warned Democrats about criticizing Bush on the war.

© 2006 Reuters