Lieberman Saves the Day for Hillary
Had Lamont won, she might have had to lurch left.
BY JAMES TARANTO
The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, November 11, 2006
It's hard to overstate the magnitude of the Democrats' victory in the Senate. Not only did they pick up six seats while losing none, they (or independents allied with them) won 24 of the 33 seats that were contested. In the next two election cycles, Republicans will be defending a total of 40 seats, versus just 27 for the Democrats, which means the GOP will have to do unusually well to regain a majority anytime before 2012.
Yet the single best outcome for Democrats in the long run may turn out to be a race in which their nominee lost, albeit to another Democrat: in Connecticut, where Sen. Joe Lieberman, running as an independent, beat Ned Lamont.
Mr. Lieberman, though generally liberal on social and economic issues, is a foreign-policy hawk. He is the strongest Democratic supporter of the liberation of Iraq and one of its most steadfast backers in either party. This made him Public Enemy No. 1 among the Angry Left and the "netroots," which spearheaded the campaign against him that led to Mr. Lamont's narrow (52% to 48%) upset victory in August's closed primary.
But even though the Iraq war is more unpopular in the Nutmeg State than in the nation as a whole, Mr. Lamont's McGovernite approach to foreign policy turned out to have little appeal beyond the Democratic base. According to exit polls, Mr. Lamont expanded his support among Democrats to 65%, but managed only 35% of independents and 8% of Republicans. This gave Mr. Lieberman a comfortable 50% to 40% margin, with most of the balance going to the GOP's hapless nominee.
Although most of Mr. Lieberman's fellow Democratic senators had endorsed him in the primary, all but a few switched allegiance to Mr. Lamont once he became the nominee. But when it was clear that Mr. Lieberman's independent bid was viable, Senate Democratic leaders let it be known that they would welcome him back into the fold if he won. That was smart. With the Senate split 51-49, a disgruntled Mr. Lieberman could have handed control back to the GOP. Instead, he remains a Democrat, proving that his party is broad enough to accommodate a variety of views on the most important issue of the day.
The biggest beneficiary of Mr. Lieberman's victory, aside from the senator himself, may be the presumed presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton. Had Mr. Lamont won--as he surely would have if Mr. Lieberman had forgone an independent bid--the pressure on her to move left, diminishing her prospects in November 2008, might have proved irresistible. Had she resisted it anyway, Democrats would have been more likely to reject her in favor of a left-wing candidate like Russ Feingold. Mrs. Clinton endorsed Mr. Lamont, but she has to be happy he didn't prevail.
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