Results point to an angry electorate

By John Whitesides

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s defeat in Connecticut offered tangible evidence of Democratic anger with President George W. Bush and the Iraq war and could be an early sign of a strong anti-incumbent mood before November’s election, analysts said on Wednesday.


Lieberman, a three-term senator and vice presidential nominee in 2000, filed petitions on Wednesday to run as an independent against Democratic primary winner Ned Lamont after falling under a wave of voter anger for his war support.

Lamont had cast the race with Lieberman as a referendum on the Iraq war. A CNN poll released on Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans oppose the war in Iraq and a majority would support a partial withdrawal of troops by year’s end.

Lieberman’s defeat came on the same night two House incumbents, Republican moderate Joe Schwarz in Michigan and liberal Democrat Cynthia McKinney in Georgia, lost in their own primary challenges.

Each had special circumstances contributing to their losses, but, along with the defeats of more than a dozen incumbent state legislators in Pennsylvania earlier this year, they offered a cumulative warning signal for November, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.

"America wants change and it’s not just the war. Every incumbent in America in both parties ought to be quaking in their boots right now," Democratic consultant Dane Strother said.

Darrell West, a political analyst at Brown University in Rhode Island, noted opinion polls showed a majority of Americans unhappy with the country’s direction and pessimistic about the future.

"Anytime you have a majority of people who think the country is headed in the wrong direction, it’s a bad time to be an incumbent," he said. "Iraq was part of the voter discontent,bdiscontent, butut it’s not the whole story."

‘SOBERING MOMENT’

Republicans said the Connecticut result reinforced their frequent argument Democrats cannot be trusted on national security issues. Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called Lieberman’s loss a "sobering moment" without political precedent.

"It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism, and a ‘blame America first’ attitude by national Democratic leaders at a time when retreating from the world is particularly dangerous," he said in a speech in Cleveland.

Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said the Lamont-Lieberman clash would keep the Democratic debate over the war prominent through the fall and highlight the image of a party fractured by divisions.

"That’s not really the image that Democrats want to send right now," he said.

But Democrats said high turnout in Connecticut showed the party’s rank and file was energized and eager to head to the polls in November, a factor that could boost challengers to endangered Connecticut Republican incumbents Chris Shays, Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson.

"It should be a flashing red light to all Republicans in Connecticut about the energy on the Democratic side," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.

"Voters are angry about the course we are on, and all Republicans are offering is stay the course," he said.

Lieberman will have to wait a few weeks to resume his tussle with Lamont and with Republican Alan Schlesinger, a former state legislator. The signatures on the petitions he turned in must be validated by town clerks in Connecticut, which could take two weeks.

"That’s not really the image that Democrats want to send right now," he said.

But Democrats said high turnout in Connecticut showed the party’s rank and file was energized and eager to head to the polls in November, a factor that could boost challengers to endangered Connecticut Republican incumbents Chris Shays, Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson.

"It should be a flashing red light to all Republicans in Connecticut about the energy on the Democratic side," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.

"Voters are angry about the course we are on, and all Republicans are offering is stay the course," he said.

Lieberman will have to wait a few weeks to resume his tussle with Lamont and with Republican Alan Schlesinger, a former state legislator. The signatures on the petitions he turned in must be validated by town clerks in Connecticut, which could take two weeks.

© Reuters 2006