By DALE McFEATTERS
Six years ago, Joe Lieberman was a few Florida votes shy of being the next vice president of the United States. Just two years ago, he was a credible candidate for his party’s presidential nomination.
Tuesday, the three-term senator, respected and well-liked by his peers in Congress, suffered the humiliation of defeat in Connecticut’s Democratic primary at the hands of Ned Lamont, a novice with deep pockets whose political resume consists largely of a failed state-senate race.
Lieberman, in an uncharacteristic moment of bitterness, blamed his loss "on the old politics of partisan polarization." Hardly. It was about as issue-oriented as a campaign can be and consisted largely of a single issue, the war in Iraq, which Lieberman supports and Lamont opposes. The cheer of Lamont’s supporters _ "Bring them home!" _ is likely to be heard in a lot of campaigns this fall.
Lieberman is seen as supportive of President Bush, and to a much lesser extent, it was a referendum on Bush himself, who, to no one’s surprise, proved anathema Tuesday to Democratic activists. Lieberman, a centrist, paid for that association. It remains to be seen whether Bush will be a similar burden to his own Republicans.
The Connecticut experience _ it is generally more affluent, liberal, antiwar and Democratic than average _ may not translate to other states. Republicans saw Tuesday’s outcome as a hard turn to the left for the Democratic Party, and indeed the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson shared the victory podium with Lamont.
An evolving new element in this campaign was the "netroots," the cyber equivalent of grass roots, whose activist bloggers generated money, support and publicity for Lamont.
Lieberman vowed to run as an independent this fall. The polls look promising, but Democratic regulars are closing ranks around Lamont, and if the senator ignores the pleas of his party to accept the results, it could be a lonely, futile campaign for an amiable and decent politician.
In one respect, Connecticut was a true bellwether: This fall’s congressional elections could well be the most important, and most interesting, since the Republican revolution of 1994.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)