By John Whitesides
Jocelyne Hudson-Brown says she no longer trusts Sen. Joseph Lieberman. John Reardon calls it a loss of confidence. Bob Walsh says Lieberman turned his back on his party.
For all three Connecticut Democrats, all one-time Lieberman supporters, the former vice presidential nominee’s staunch advocacy of the Iraq war was the final straw that convinced them to back Lieberman’s anti-war challenger Ned Lamont.
"I have no more confidence in Lieberman," said Reardon, an 83-year-old retired truck driver from Meriden. "He doesn’t tell the truth. He goes to Iraq and says everything is great and I’m supposed to believe him? What am I, stupid?"
Said Hudson-Brown, a public relations adviser from New Haven: "The war in Iraq has changed everything. Lieberman was always with us before, we knew him and trusted him — but not anymore."
After decades in Connecticut and national politics, Lieberman faces his biggest political test on Tuesday when state Democrats decide whether to renominate him for a fourth six-year term or turn to Lamont.
Lamont, a millionaire former cable television executive, opened a double-digit lead on Lieberman in a poll last week after hammering the senator for his support of the war and his willingness to work with President George W. Bush.
Lamont tapped into a wave of anti-war anger by casting Tuesday’s vote as a referendum on the war and on Bush. He frequently urges voters to send an anti-war message to the Bush administration and establishment Democrats ahead of November’s elections to decide control of Congress.
That message resonates in Connecticut, where polls show large majorities oppose the war and many Democrats said in interviews last week they were willing to forgive Lieberman for much — but not his support for the war.
"I’ve had issues with Lieberman and disagreements with him on a variety of things," said Jim Eckert of Hamden, a research scientist at Yale University who said the senator’s support for the energy bill and free trade agreements had angered him.
"But the war in Iraq was the tipping point, the last straw," he said.
Lieberman has annoyed Democrats for years on issues beyond Iraq, from his early condemnation of President Bill Clinton during the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal to his refusal to support a filibuster against conservative Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.
Last week’s Quinnipiac University poll found 65 percent of Lamont supporters were primarily casting their vote against Lieberman, and nearly half cited the war as the top reason.
"Joe Lieberman has become more and more conservative the longer he has been in Washington, and the Iraq war brought it all home," said Walsh, a Bridgeport city councilman. He said Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential election, "turned his back on Democrats" by announcing he would run as an independent if he loses the primary.
Lieberman is trailed to most campaign events by a pickup truck carrying a huge depiction of Bush and Lieberman locked in "The Kiss," the president’s now famous peck on Lieberman’s cheek after the 2005 State of the Union address.
Lamont has highlighted the image on buttons and ads, while Lieberman’s campaign responds with buttons depicting "The Hug" — Lieberman and former President Bill Clinton in an embrace. Clinton campaigned for Lieberman last month.
Ben Maxwell, a retired civil service worker from Bridgeport and a longtime supporter of Lieberman, said he could not vote for the senator again because of his relationship with Bush.
"I don’t have faith in him as a senator any more," he said. "With George Bush and Republicans controlling government, we need someone to stand up to them, not go along with them.