Tuesday, August 8, 2006 | 4:55 p.m. ET
From Marisa Buchanan, Mark Murray, Norah O'Donnell, Chip Reid, Jennifer Yuille and Huma Zaidi

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Lieberman camp cries foul
All eyes are on today's Connecticut primary contest between Democrats Sen. Joe Lieberman and businessman Ned Lamont. Tonight's outcome could be greater in 2008 than in November to the extent that the results prompt candidates for the party's presidential nomination to reconsider their own stances on the Iraq war.

But, the contentious primary which had Lieberman trailing Lamont by double digits until earlier this week, has been muddied with accusations that Lamont supporters have "hacked" into Lieberman's re-election website, effectively shutting it down.

This afternoon, the Lieberman camp announced that their website had been taken down and campaign staff were unable to communicate via email. Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager, said in a statement that the site has been down for 24 hours and that the campaign thinks "that this is the result of a coordinated attack by our political opponents." Smith called on Lamont to denounce the actions immediately and "demand whoever is responsible to cease and desist immediately." An advisor to the campaign said the perpetrators have "broken" their "ability to communicate" with field offices, voters and staff.

But Lamont's campaign said they have nothing to do with it and hope the problem is resolved soon. Liz Dupont-Diehl, spokeswoman for the Lamont campaign, issued a statement in response. "We strongly condemn whoever is doing this and urge them to stop. It certainly isn't the Lamont campaign." Tim Tagaris, the campaign's communications director, also issued a statement saying that "the Lieberman campaign is pushing a story that we have coordinated an attack against their website. Not a chance... If Senator Lieberman's website was indeed hacked, we had absolutely no part in it, denounce the action, and urge whoever is responsible cease and desist immediately."

Still, Lieberman's campaign has filed a complaint with the US Attorney and the Connecticut Chief State's Attorney, which announced that they will investigate the matter and "will seek civil and criminal penalties, where appropriate." In the meantime, Lieberman has cancelled two events he was scheduled to attend today in Waterbury and Southington.

Make sure to tune into Hardball with Chris Matthews at 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm for the latest on the race.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In today's issue:
Connecticut polls close at 8:00 pm ET; results are expected before midnight; turnout will be anyone's guess
DeLay's on the ballot.  So does he actually run?
New RNC memo says yes, their base is motivated

First glance
Primary upsets used to be late-breaking developments.  Consider what the Almanac of American Politics said of Carol Moseley-Braun's 1992 defeat of Sen. Alan Dixon (D): "In the last week, she started getting free publicity."  Fourteen years, a few cable news networks, and one Internet later, the plight of Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman hasn't exactly snuck up on anyone -- except that perhaps it dawned on Lieberman at about the same time it occurred to everyone else that he is, in fact, quite vulnerable to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont.  Since then, the media has chronicled every step of what could well be the downfall of a three-term Senator and two-time candidate for national office -- even though his seat should remain in Democrats' column on election day.  Indeed, the impact of today's outcome could be greater in 2008 than in 2006 to the extent that the results prompt candidates for the party's presidential nomination to reconsider their own stances on the Iraq war.

But if Lieberman loses today, his support for the war will be just one reason why.  Republicans will argue that a Lamont victory is a sign that the Democratic tent isn't big enough to allow for differing opinions about the war, or that the party is divided on the war and therefore unreliable on matters of national security.  But opposition to Lieberman, which began with some anti-war bloggers backing a multimillionaire first-time candidate, has grown into something much more complex.  Per the newest Quinnipiac University poll, which shows Lieberman trailing Lamont by 6 points, 36% of Lamont voters say that Lieberman's support for the war is the only reason why they're voting against him, while 54% say it's just one reason why.

Opposition to Lieberman now seems based partly on his support for Bush on the war; partly on his support for Republicans on other issues; partly on his approach and tone; partly on anti-incumbent sentiment; and perhaps also on neglect for his home state.  Press coverage of Lieberman on the stump over the last several weeks has been peppered with remarks from residents that they'd never seen him before that day, or hadn't seen him in years.

Should he lose the primary, Lieberman will need to submit 7,500 valid signatures by tomorrow to petition his way onto the ballot as an independent.  Until now, his campaign has been mum about their progress on this front.  Democratic operatives familiar with the campaign suggest that Lieberman's fellow Sen. Chris Dodd (D) is best positioned to talk him out of pursuing an independent bid on the party's behalf, which could provide aspiring presidential candidate Dodd with an interesting opportunity.

As of late last week, no major media outlets or state polling outfits were planning to conduct an exit poll because of the quirkiness of an August primary turnout.  Polling places close at 8:00 pm ET.  A spokesperson for the Secretary of State tells First Read that they hope to have an outcome shortly before midnight.  More below on how the vote count is expected to go.

Lieberman is, in fact, just one of three incumbent members of Congress who could fail to win renomination today.  The odds of any incumbent losing this way aren't as rare as being struck by lightning, but they're close.  In 1998, just one member lost a primary; in 2000, three did; in 2002 (after redistricting), the number jumped to nine; and in 2004, it was two.  In today's contests in Connecticut, Georgia, and Michigan, it's possible that as many as three -- Lieberman (D), Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), and Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) -- could lose, becoming the first member(s) to be defeated this cycle.  Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report tells First Read that incumbents usually lose their primaries because they're involved in a scandal, commit some gaffe, or are "clueless" about their political weakness.  "They rarely lose because of an ideological difference."

McKinney, one of nine incumbents who lost a primary in 2002 but who won back her suburban Atlanta-based House seat two years later, finds herself facing possible defeat again in a runoff against former county commissioner Hank Johnson.  One reason why: her striking of a Capitol Hill police officer after he stopped her at a security checkpoint because he didn't recognize her.  A new poll shows Johnson leading McKinney, 53%-40%.  "It wouldn't surprise me if she wins," Walter says.  "It wouldn't surprise me if she loses, either."  McKinney won her July 18 primary with 47%, less than the majority required to avoid a runoff.  Polls in Georgia open at 7:00 am ET and close at 7:00 pm ET.

While Walter says that incumbents rarely lose primaries for ideological reasons, she notes that Schwarz of Michigan might be an exception.  The moderate Republican is being challenged by a more conservative state legislator.  As Walter recently wrote, Schwarz's support of embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights, and his opposition to a ban on gay marriage, have "earned him the ire of state and national conservative groups."  Polls open at 8:00 am ET and close at 9:00 pm ET.  Other contests of note today include the GOP Senate primary in Michigan between sheriff Mike Bouchard and minister Keith Butler for the right to face Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

Have you checked out MSNBC.com's political calendar lately?

Lieberman vs. Lamont
MSNBC's Chris Matthews will anchor the network's coverage of this primary all day, as well as live broadcasts of Hardball at 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm ET.  He'll be joined by MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle.  They'll also announce and analyze the results in a special netcast, and MSNBC.com's Tom Curry will blog from the state throughout the day.

Election officials in Connecticut can begin tallying precinct results from around the state as soon as polls close at 8:00 pm.  According to a Dan Tapper, spokesperson for Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, the first cities to submit their results tend to be smaller towns such as Litchfield and Somers, which Bush won in 2004, and Kent, which supported Kerry.  Toward the end of the night, a little after 10:00 pm, Tapper says, results from the state's largest cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and Stamford should begin to trickle in -- all towns that overwhelmingly voted for Kerry in 2004.  While it's hard to predict what time they'll have the official results, Tapper says he hopes to have an answer just before midnight.  Until then, they'll be updating results on their website.

Of the 2-plus million voters in Connecticut, just under 697,000 are registered Democrats who are eligible to vote today.  While Lamont had a comfortable yet shrinking lead over Lieberman in yesterday's Quinnipiac poll, the state is ready in case a recount is required.  In order to trigger one, the state says the margin separating the two candidates must be "less than one-half of one percent of the total number of votes cast," but "not more than 1,000 votes" or within 20 votes.  If it's a close contest, Bysiewicz has until Thursday to determine if a recount is needed.  If so, the state would have until next Tuesday to complete the recount.

Rev. Al Sharpton will host his radio show from Hartford today from 1:00 pm-4:00 pm, per his office, and Lamont and Rev. Jesse Jackson are expected to call in.

The Hartford Courant: "Lamont made two campaign stops before breakfast, including an appeal to a traditional Lieberman constituency: submarine workers at Electric Boat in Groton.  Then he withdrew for a day of media interviews...  Only Lieberman... has a full day of campaigning scheduled today."

"Lamont said the intense media scrutiny that he has attracted recently had become 'just a little distracting,' so he limited his schedule to private events and one-on-one media interviews after a pair of early-morning appearances." – Boston Globe

Per the AP, "14,506 unaffiliated voters have changed their registration to Democrat and... 14,380 new voters have registered as Democrats since May 1...  There is a total of 696,823 registered Connecticut Democrats who can vote on Tuesday.  However, only about 25% typically turn out for Connecticut primaries, but that figure is expected to be higher given the attention paid to the Senate race."

The Connecticut Post says Lamont has spent more than $4 million of his own money and Lieberman has spent $6 million.

The Washington Post notes it was exactly six years ago that Al Gore introduced Lieberman as his running mate, and observes, "A Lamont victory Tuesday would be the most significant primary defeat for an incumbent Democratic senator since Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War, fell to then-Gov. Dale Bumpers in 1974."  But that race "did not turn on great issues of the day."

The AP says the stakes are especially high for MoveOn because a "come-from-behind win for Mr. Lieberman would mark yet another setback for MoveOn in its parallel campaign -- to strengthen its credentials as a force to be heeded by Democrats as they seek congressional majorities this fall...  The organization has yet to back a winner in a string of congressional races decided so far."

The Boston Globe says that bloggers can take credit for catapulting Lamont ahead of Lieberman.  "Political analysts say that the network of Internet commentators -- some from as far away as California -- channeled voter anger... into a huge boost for Lamont, drawing national attention to the race."

Former Clinton special counsel and Lieberman ally Lanny Davis has a Wall Street Journal op-ed decrying the campaign against Lieberman as a McCarthy-esque effort to purge the party, and calling on Lamont to denounce Lieberman's most vitriolic opponents.

The New York Daily News reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton "declined to characterize the message a Lieberman loss would send nationally.  'Every election is different, every candidate is different, every place is different,' she said in New York.  'Let's just wait and see what happens,' she said.  'Obviously, I hope he wins.'"

Texas
The only remaining question to be answered is, how hard will he run?  Texas Republicans have given up their legal effort to replace former Rep. Tom DeLay's name on the ballot in November.  After Justice Antonin Scalia declined yesterday to issue an emergency order to block a lower court ruling that DeLay's name cannot be removed, state GOP lawyers concluded that further legal wrangling would be pointless, NBC's Pete Williams reports.  "Texas Democrats have succeeded in their legal effort to chose the Republican nominee," said James Bopp, a lawyer for the Texas GOP, told Williams.  The GOP could have asked the Supreme Court to take the case, but there was little chance that the court would be able to act in time to change the ballot.  "All our legal avenues have been exhausted," Bopp said.  DeLay has not yet said what he'll do -- whether he might return to Texas from Virginia, where he has established residence, and fight for his old seat.

The Houston Chronicle says that (Virginia resident) "DeLay was at his Sugar Land home Monday, but refused to come to the phone to discuss his intentions...  Dani DeLay Ferro, DeLay's spokeswoman and daughter, did not provide an immediate response."

"It is not clear to political experts in either party whether DeLay can convince the voters in his former district that he has any interest in winning the seat, even if he were to retire right after Election Day to force a special election to replace him," says Roll Call.

It's the economy...
The Fed today is widely expected to end its streak of 17 interest rate hikes in a row.

BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field could remain at least partially shut down for months, a prospect which has some analysts expecting new record highs for oil prices.  "The Energy Department will consider releasing oil from the government's emergency supplies if a refinery requests it to make up for supply disruptions from Alaska." – USA Today

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) yesterday called on Bush to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "to help buffer the economy from the impact of new disruptions in the oil market."

Ethics
The Washington Post reports that Rep. Bob Ney (R) decided to retire from Congress rather than continue his re-election effort after Majority Leader John Boehner met with him last week and reminded him "that with a son in college and a daughter nearing college age, he will need money...  If he lost his House seat for the party, Boehner is said to have cautioned, Ney could not expect a lucrative career on K Street to pay those tuition bills, along with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees piling up."  Another possible motivation for Ney to retire: the prospect of $1.5 million in ad spending against him by the Democratic House campaign committee.

The New York Times: "It was not clear if the timing of the announcement was related to an Ohio state law that requires a primary election if a Congressional candidate withdraws from the race or dies more than 80 days from the election - in Mr. Ney's case, Aug. 21.  If he waited until after that date, Mr. Ney might have been forced to keep his name on the ballot over his objections, a situation faced by Mr. DeLay in Texas."

The Bush agenda
Bloomberg follows on the AP in reporting that the Administration "may change some immigration rules to make it easier for Cubans with relatives in the U.S. to enter the country."  It "also is considering refusing visa applications from any Cuban caught trying to sneak into the U.S.  Under current policy, such people aren't penalized if they later apply for a visa...  One administration official described the changes under consideration as an effort to cut down on the smuggling of Cubans, a practice that the official said may cost those being smuggled thousands of dollars and endangers their lives.  The changes may be announced as early as this week."

More on the midterms
Amid speculation that Democrats have the more motivated base and that the GOP faithful might be fatigued and/or unenthusiastic this fall, a poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee of its past voters finds, in fact, an enthusiastic base, with 81% saying they're "almost certain to vote."  The survey also finds that in addition to "foreign threats," which is the biggest motivator for the base, a handful of domestic topics and an overwhelming concern over what might happen if Democrats seize control of one or both chambers of Congress are among the most important issues to the base.

The survey, which was conducted by pollster Fred Steeper (R) in late June and distributed to RNC members at their meeting in Minneapolis last week, identified 18 issues "as having the best potential" to mobilize the base in time for the midterms.  Eleven are domestic policy concerns, including making Bush's tax cuts permanent, preserving cultural values, medical malpractice reform, and "extremely high dissatisfaction" that the media never reports any "good news from Iraq."  Most notably, Democrats' "impeachment threats" are the source of "significant anger" among the base.  They're also concerned over Democratic opposition to the Medicare prescription drug law, as well as their overall approach to health care.  The remaining seven issues concerned the global war on terror, which Republicans said Bush is handling to their satisfaction.

A new Washington Post/ABC poll "found some of the same political currents that have buffeted [Lieberman's] campaign flowing through the national electorate.  The public has soured on politicians backing the Iraq war...  Especially worrisome for members of Congress is that the proportion of Americans who approve of their own representative's performance has fallen sharply."  More: "The survey suggests that it is not just Republicans whose incumbents are in jeopardy.  But it includes one important caveat -- as of now, few Republicans or Democrats plan to stray from their parties in November.  The Democrats' lead stems from a big advantage among independents."  Bush's job approval rating in the poll is 40%.

Bloomberg reports that big business PAC's are still betting on continued GOP control of Congress.

USA Today, noting how politics is increasingly looking like a family business, lists how many children of lawmakers and former lawmakers are running for office this year.

In California, gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides (D) attacked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) "for questionable conflict-of-interest practices... and said the Republican incumbent has failed to enact political reforms he promised voters three years ago," the Sacramento Bee says.  "Schwarzenegger's campaign struck back by citing past cases in which state Treasurer Angelides accepted money from companies seeking business from the California Public Employees' Retirement System, of which Angelides is a trustee."

The Miami Herald reports that on the same day that gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis (D) was campaigning in the predominantly Jewish part of South Florida, he was "getting unwanted publicity from an attack ad questioning his support for Israel."  The mailer "slammed Davis for missing a vote in Congress assailing the terrorist attacks against Israel."  The campaign of his primary opponent, state Sen. Rod Smith, denied having anything to do with the mailer.

In today's Democratic runoff in Georgia between Rep. Cynthia McKinney and challenger Hank Johnson, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on a new InsiderAdvantage poll showing Johnson leading McKinney, 53%-40%.  In a radio debate yesterday, McKinney reminded voters that Johnson has received money from donors who have contributed to GOP candidates in the past, and she also called for Bush's impeachment.  "Johnson reminded the audience of the March incident in which McKinney was accused of striking a U.S. Capitol police officer."

The Los Angeles Times says "many Georgia Democrats... worry that [McKinney] could jeopardize the party's chances of attracting moderate white and rural voters in November's gubernatorial election.  Already, Georgia Republicans have seized on Democrats' embarrassment, calling for Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Democratic nominee for governor, to explain his ties to McKinney."

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a pro-choice Republican running for governor, is raising some eyebrows in the abortion-rights community for refusing to fill out questionnaires for three pro-choice groups, reports the Boston Globe.  Healey's office said yesterday that she is pro-choice and offered to meet with some activists, but still refused to fill out the questionnaire.

The Detroit Free Press previews today's primaries in Michigan, saying that just 19% of registered voters are expected to turn out.  "Today's forecast is perfect in Michigan: sunny, not too hot, chance of rain near zero.  Chances someone you know will vote: less than 20%."

The Senate race in Missouri could be the most competitive race -- and the bellwether -- of the 2006 midterms.  And it could get even more entertaining: The candidates in the race, Sen. Jim Talent (R) and challenger Claire McCaskill (D), have now agreed to debate on NBC's Meet the Press on October 8.

And RNC chair Ken Mehlman is in Ohio for a two-day swing that will include party events and a rally with embattled Sen. Mike DeWine (R).

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

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