updated 11/1/2006 10:24:13 AM ET 2006-11-01T15:24:13

Sen. Joe Lieberman alienated plenty of Democrats with his independent bid. Just imagine their anger if he costs them control of the House.

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The three-term Connecticut senator is aggressively pursuing Republican and independent voters in his race against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont and little-known Republican Alan Schlesinger. That targeted appeal - and the potential for a strong GOP turnout - could save three GOP House incumbents struggling to return to Washington.

"There's resentment on a lot of people's parts," said Richard Smith, Democratic town committee chairman in Milford, a New Haven suburb. "There's something about the American character. We love a good fight, but we also love people who play by the rules. C'mon Joe, you're a Democrat or you're not a Democrat. Sometimes, self-interest takes the day."

Lieberman's GOP coattails
Reps. Christopher Shays, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons - GOP moderates in a Democratic-leaning state - have been on everyone's vulnerable list for months. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to win the House, and the three Connecticut districts consistently have been part of the calculation.

Lieberman has the support of 70 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents, according to an Oct. 20 Quinnipiac University survey. Republican Alan Schlesinger trailed far behind in single digits in the head-to-head matchup.

Lieberman's coattails could carry the GOP incumbents to re-election and undercut Democratic hopes of majority control of the House.

"It does help me," Shays said in a recent interview. "I know there will be a lot of Republicans who will vote for him, as well as a lot of independents and Democrats. ... Joe is the kind of person who reaches across the political divide, and I am like that as well."

Shays is running neck-and-neck against Democrat Diane Farrell in a district that includes affluent New York City suburbs such as Greenwich and Westport. It's a rematch of a bruising fight that Shays survived by just 4 percentage points two years ago.

"Lieberman has a lot of Republican support and that should help the other races," said Charles Flynn Jr., a Republican and former Norwalk city councilor.

Johnson, 71, is a 12-term incumbent locked in a nasty race against Chris Murphy, a 33-year-old Democratic state senator. One of her TV ads features an actor portraying Murphy being welcomed by drug dealers as he campaigns door-to-door.

Politics of Iraq
In a sprawling working-class district in Eastern Connecticut, Simmons' support of the Iraq war has come under heavy fire from Democratic challenger Joe Courtney. It's the most Democratic, and poorest, of the three in play.

Shays and Lieberman are national figures who often buck their parties on key issues. Such independence plays well in Connecticut, a blue state that President Bush lost by 10 percentage points in 2004.

Bush and the war are unpopular, but the state has a popular GOP governor. Republicans make up about 22 percent of registered voters. There are roughly twice as many independents, the state's largest voting bloc.

Bipartisan voters
"Connecticut voters are very used to splitting their ballots," Quinnipiac University Poll director Doug Schwartz said. "That's what they do. We've had Republican governors and Democratic senators for a long time."

Unaffiliated voters like Jane Love, a consultant from Stamford, tend to ignore party labels.

Love wore a white shirt emblazoned with the words "I'm Sticking With Joe" as well as a Shays sticker at a boisterous weekend rally in downtown Stamford for the GOP congressman that featured Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. She is an independent who registered as a Democrat to vote for Lieberman in the primary before switching back to independent.

"I like their independence," she said of Shays and Lieberman. "They vote their mind. They don't always follow the party."

Because he's running as an independent, Lieberman cannot rely on his party's organization to help him identify voters and get them to the polls, particularly Republicans and independents.

Lieberman is getting assistance from Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political team, which is helping to build the senator's get-out-the-vote operation. He's also won praise from top Bush officials and campaigned with Republicans like former New York Rep. Jack Kemp.

Schwartz, however, doubts that such efforts will do much to boost the GOP incumbents.

"I just don't think Lieberman helps Republican turnout all that much," Schwartz said. "Voters look at these races separately. I don't see Lieberman firing up the Republican base."

Loath to be seen as a spoiler, Lieberman dismissed the idea that his success could hurt the Democratic effort to retake the House.

"I haven't thought about it," Lieberman said. Contending that most voters tend to cross party lines, he added: "People are going to be smart enough to pick their way."

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


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