Three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman fell to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont in Connecticut’s Democratic primary Tuesday, a race seen as a harbinger of sentiment over a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,500 U.S. troops.
Unbowed, Lieberman immediately announced he would enter the fall campaign as an independent. Only six years ago, Lieberman was the Democrats’ choice for vice president.
“For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand,” Lieberman said of the results.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Democratic Party aim to make him change his mind — before Lieberman’s camp files a petition to run as an independent, due by the afternoon.
Lamont, a millionaire with virtually no political experience, ran on his opposition to the Iraq war.
Lamont won with 52 percent of the vote, or 146,061, to 48 percent for Lieberman, with 136,042, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Turnout was projected at twice the norm for a primary.
“They call Connecticut the land of steady habits,” a jubilant Lamont told cheering reporters. “Tonight we voted for a big change.”
Lieberman’s loss made him only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary since 1980.
Two other incumbents in Congress lost their seats Tuesday.
In Georgia, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the fiery congresswoman known for her conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks and a scuffle this year with a U.S. Capitol police officer, lost a runoff for the Democratic nomination.
In Michigan, moderate Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz lost to a conservative in a GOP primary.
Elsewhere, voters in Colorado and Missouri also chose candidates for the fall elections.
The anti-war sentiment
The Connecticut Senate race dominated the political landscape in recent weeks, as Lamont demonstrated the power of anti-war sentiment among Democrats with his campaign. Lamont is the millionaire owner of a cable television company, but his political career is limited to serving as a town selectman and member of the town tax board.
It was a race watched closely by the liberal, Internet-savvy Democrats who lead the party’s emerging “netroots” movement, groups such as Moveon.org that played a big role in pushing Lamont’s candidacy.
Officials said turnout was up to 50 percent when primaries usually only draw 25 percent of voters. And vote totals showed roughly 16,000 more ballots cast for the Democratic Senate primary than the party primary for governor, reflecting the extra attention to the Lieberman-Lamont battle.
Jubilant Lamont supporters predicted victory.
“People are going to look back and say the Bush years started to end in Connecticut,” said Avi Green, a volunteer from Boston. “The Republicans are going to look at tonight and realize there’s blood in the water.”
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and other officials are expected to endorse Lamont. New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg last week suggested that Lieberman drop plans to run as an independent if he loses by a wide margin.
“I think he really has to take a look at what reality is,” Lautenberg said.
State leaders — including fellow Democratic Sen. Chris Dodds and a long list of top officials who only days before were campaigning for Lieberman — planned to rally for Lamont on Wednesday morning.
Sean Smith, Lieberman’s campaign manager, said Lieberman was prepared to go forward with an independent run no matter what the primary outcome.
“This is bigger than the party now,” Smith said.
A hack accusation
On the final day of the race, Lieberman accused his opponent’s supporters of hacking his campaign Web site and e-mail system. Smith said the site began having problems Monday night and crashed for good at 7 a.m., denying voters information about the candidate.
“It is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise voters,” Smith said.
Lamont, campaigning early Tuesday afternoon in Bridgeport, said he knew nothing about the accusations. “It’s just another scurrilous charge,” he said.
Democratic critics targeted Lieberman for his strong support of the Iraq war and for his close ties to President Bush. They played and replayed video of the kiss President Bush planted on Lieberman’s cheek after the 2005 State of the Union address.
In the lead up to Tuesday’s primary, 14,000 new Connecticut voters registered as Democrats, while another 14,000 state voters switched their registration from unaffiliated to Democrat to vote in the primary.
In Georgia, McKinney, her state’s first black congresswoman, lost to Hank Johnson, the black former commissioner of DeKalb County, 58 percent to 41 percent.
In the heavily Democratic district, the runoff winner is likely to win in the fall.
McKinney has long been controversial, once suggesting the Bush administration had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. In March, she struck a Capitol Police officer who did not recognize her and tried to stop her from entering a House office building.
In other primaries Tuesday:
In Michigan, Schwarz, a moderate who supports abortion rights, lost to conservative Tim Walberg, a former state lawmaker. The race drew more than $1 million from outside groups; Schwarz had received support from President Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
- In Colorado, state Sen. Doug Lamborn won the GOP nomination to succeed 10-term Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, and attorney Ed Perlmutter won the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republican nominee for governor.
- In Missouri, Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, won their party’s primaries.