updated 9/11/2006 10:41:56 AM ET 2006-09-11T14:41:56

Soon after Sen. Joe Lieberman's primary defeat in Connecticut, Rhode Island Democrat Jennifer Lawless taunted her primary rival, Rep. James Langevin, with a new Web site.

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Lawless used http://www.LangevinEqualsLieberman.com to mock Langevin as too conservative and out of step with voters on the Iraq war - echoing attack lines upstart anti-war challenger Ned Lamont used to topple three-term incumbent Lieberman.

Lawless is hardly alone plugging into Connecticut's high-voltage Senate fight for energy and inspiration. Congressional candidates from both parties have pounced on the Lamont-Lieberman showdown in hopes of gaining an edge in several races elsewhere.

Republicans scrambling to keep control of Congress are branding Democrats in some Senate contests as weak on national security because they favor Lamont over Lieberman, one of President Bush' staunchest supporters on the war.

"We want to make sure voters see the far left is flexing its muscles," said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

A few long-shot Democratic House primary challengers are hoping to catch fire by embracing Lamont's anti-war message and underdog profile.

"I was heartened when Ned Lamont won," said Lawless, whose primary is Tuesday. "Our campaign has tried to focus on creative ways to get our message across."

Politics of anti-war
Republicans, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, were quick to cast Lamont's Aug. 8 victory as a sign that anti-war liberal extremists were regaining control of the Democratic Party. The GOP needled Democrats backing Lamont as soft on defense.

Democrats, however, pointed to Lieberman's loss as a symbol of mounting voter disenchantment with Republican rule, particularly on the war.

"They've lost credibility on the trust side of the national security argument," said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus. "The bottom has fallen out on that."

Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, has angered party officials by running as an independent in a three-way fall race against Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger. Since losing the primary, most Democrats have endorsed Lamont.

GOP support for Lieberman
Shortly after Lieberman's loss, the GOP Senate campaign committee issued a flurry of press releases attacking Democratic Senate candidates in several states for failing to back Lieberman, a centrist who has won praise from the Bush administration.

Pennsylvania, home to one of the marquee Senate races, was among the targeted contests. Republicans rapped GOP Sen. Rick Santorum's Democratic rival, Bob Casey, for backing Lamont, saying it undermined Casey's claims he is a moderate.

"That speaks volumes about Casey," said Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis.

The Casey camp brushed off the charge, saying it was focused on Pennsylvania, not Connecticut.

"It was echoing some of Cheney's comments," said Casey's campaign press secretary Larry Smar. Santorum "got the talking points from the Karl Rove playbook," a reference to the president's top political adviser.

Similar charges have been leveled against Democrats in other pivotal Senate races, including Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee and Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey.

Grasping at straws
Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz is skeptical that such attacks are effective. He said most voters have little or no interest in Connecticut.

"I put it in the category of grasping at straws," said Abramowitz. "It's inside baseball kind of stuff."

Meanwhile, Democratic House challengers waging primary fights in Wisconsin and Massachusetts, like Lawless, have compared themselves with Lamont and made the war a core issue:

-Wisconsin anti-war Democrat Chip DeNure is making his fight against five-term Rep. Ron Kind a referendum on the war.

-In Massachusetts, anti-war Democrat Phil Dunkelbarger is invoking the Lieberman-Lamont fight against Rep. Stephen Lynch, who insists he is a loyal Democrat whose voting record is strongly anti-Bush.

Rhode Island's Langevin voted against authorizing the war and has called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's ouster. But Lawless, a Brown University professor, has accused Langevin of backing Bush's stay-the-course Iraq policies, saying he has voted to continue funding the war.

"It's comparing apples and oranges," complained Langevin spokeswoman Joy Fox of Lawless' portrayal of Langevin as another Lieberman. "Langevin is a proud Democrat."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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