By Patricia Wilson
Fueled by opposition to the Iraq war and anger at President Bush, liberal grass-roots and Internet activists on Wednesday claimed their most significant political victory — the defeat of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
The three-term senator from Connecticut was repudiated on Tuesday by voters from his own party who chose Ned Lamont — a relative unknown with a fierce anti-war message — to represent Democrats in the November election.
"The winner is people-powered politics," declared the Daily Kos Web site, a sentiment that echoed throughout the liberal blogosphere.
Lamont, a millionaire businessman who has never held state or federal office, had almost zero name recognition and very little political experience when he entered the race.
But his vociferous opposition to the Iraq war and Bush’s pursuit of it drew the attention of activists, bloggers and groups like MoveOn.org, which unleashed an army of volunteers who went house-to-house in Connecticut for months and made 80,000 phone calls in the days before the primary vote.
"What you’re witnessing is the democratization of democracy and don’t expect it to be pretty," said Carol Darr, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
While Lamont’s campaign was well-financed — he spent more than $3 million of his own money — groups like MoveOn and its more than 3 million members across the United States gave him traction.
"The candidates and the parties are about to see that they are no longer in control of politics," Darr said. "And I’ve got a front-row seat at the revolution."
Lamont’s victory underscored the growing clout of grass-roots and Internet activists — collectively dubbed "netroots" — that first emerged during Howard Dean’s Democratic presidential bid in 2004.
"Lieberman was handed a crushing defeat because ordinary people realize that Joe Lieberman and the Washington establishment he represents has for too long been allowed to sell out their constituents and this country as a whole," liberal blogger David Sirota wrote.
Lamont’s unseating of Lieberman, a longtime supporter of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, provided a measure of anti-war sentiment among voters before the November 7 election, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.
Republicans, increasingly concerned about losing their dominance in the Senate and the House of Representatives, pointed to the anti-war activists who galvanized around Lamont as evidence that the Democratic Party is under the sway of its radical left wing and cannot be trusted with national security.
"What we saw last night was really an uprising of voters hungry for change," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action. "A revolt by voters who are tired of politicians who defend the status quo at a time when the status quo is failing America."
The bloggers and activists who helped claim Lieberman’s scalp, are not through with the senator — who will now run for re-election as an independent — or others who backed the war.
Pariser said his group would give about $15 million to candidates and organizations interested in "changing the course" of the country.
"And our focus will be to make sure Lieberman does the right thing and steps aside now the voters have weighed in," he said. MoveOn members soon will start making telephone calls urging him to bow out gracefully.