Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Lamont Victory and the Lieberman Resurrection

The big political news today is obviously Ned Lamont's victory in the Connecticut Democratic primary over three-term incumbent Joseph Lieberman. I've posted previously about the contest, for example, on Lamont's surprising ascendency and on the implications of the race for the future of the Democratic Party. Now with the primary over observers and strategists will be picking through the results to find meaning for the national political landscape.

Over at The Nation,
John Nichols indicates that Lamont's win reflects the candidate's true representation of core Democratic party principles:

How did Lamont succeed where others – including 2004 presidential contender and current Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean -- failed? Not by simply expressing opposition to the war, nor even by expressing frustration with Lieberman's refusal to question even the most misguided of Bush administration foreign policies.
Lamont won by doing something most national Democrats have failed to do over the past several election cycles. He put the war in perspective, telling voters that the $250 million a day that is shifted from the U.S. Treasury into a failed fight in Iraq and the deep pockets of defense contractors like Halliburton could be better used to pay for education and health care at home and smart foreign aid programs abroad.

The Lamont message was always a far more sophisticated one than most of the national media coverage of the campaign suggested. The challenger rarely spoke just about Iraq, but instead invited voters to join in a broader discussion of foreign policy, American interests and American values. And he never allowed the war debate to be isolated from the debate about how an America that was not bogged down in Iraq might better spend its resources.

Mocking the rhetoric of the Bush administration and Lieberman regarding Iraq, Lamont said on Tuesday night: "Stay the course -- that's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America." He meant what he was saying. Just as Lamont wants to "[fix] George Bush's failed foreign policy," he also wants to fix failed domestic policies that have produced what he correctly refers to as a "broken" health care system and an education system that leaves too many children behind. And he recognizes the linkages between failures abroad and failures at home.

Connecticut Democrats rewarded that recognition by handing the Senate nomination to Lamont in a historic primary vote.

National Democratic party leaders and strategists, who have had such a hard time figuring out their message going into this fall's House and Senate elections, would be wise to take a lesson from the campaign that Ned Lamont waged, and the result it produced.
It's still months until the November general election, of course, and Lieberman today filed his papers with the Connecticut Secretary of State's office to run as an independent. Political consultant Dick Morris, who helped Bill Clinton develop his "triangulation" strategy in the mid-1990s, argues in today's New York Post that Lieberman is poised for success in the fall:

Those who would consign Lieberman to the dustbin of history need to realize that the Democratic primary in Connecticut is an affair that could be conducted in a good sized phone booth. About 140,000 people voted for Lamont. But the state saw 1,575,000 votes cast in the general election of 2004. Assume a lower turnout in 2006 (an off year), say 1 million votes, that still leaves 860,000 that can vote for Lieberman.

The Connecticut incumbent can, of course, count on the roughly 130,000 who backed him yesterday (aside from a few party regulars who might find it necessary to fall into line and endorse the nominee).

Then, with the Republican plagued by reports of huge gambling debts, Lieberman will strongly attract independent and GOP voters, plus moderate Democrats who weren't energized enough by the Lamont challenge to vote in the primaries.

In the general election, Lieberman can paint Lamont (a former client of mine) as the rich, light-weight dilettante he is (heir to the fortune of J.P. Morgan's partner) and can focus on the broad range of his legislative agenda. After all, Lieberman has taken the lead on issues ranging from campaign-finance reform to tobacco regulation to corporate-governance reform to tough action against terrorism to the battle against global warming. He'll look better and better, while Lamont will look like a one-issue challenger who is out of his league.

Freed of the confines of the Democratic primary, Lieberman can now appeal to independents, Republicans and mainstream Democrats who were not sufficiently motivated to participate in the primary, he can win.
A big winner in all of this, lest we forget, is Daily Kos and the netroots. Kos staked enormous effort and reputation in the battle against Lieberman, and they've been vindicated, as this Time Magazine article suggests. The signposts for the fall campaign are now more clear than any time since the Bilbray victory in San Diego's 50th congressional district in June, with the message that congressional incumbents with significant antiwar elements among their constituents have something to worry about.

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