Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut will be able to raise the funds necessary to mount a campaign to keep his Senate seat, both Democratic and Republican donors say.
Having lost last week’s Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, Lieberman is running as an independent against Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger.
Lamont, a Greenwich, Conn. businessman who self-financed about two-thirds of his campaign, ran against Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war, his refusal to use a filibuster to block a vote on Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito and a number of other issues.
Lieberman's decision to run as an independent is causing angst within the ranks of Democratic donors, some of whom were unwilling to talk on the record about his campaign because his candidacy has so divided Democrats.
The three-term Democrat will turn to donors to his previous Senate campaigns and his 2004 presidential bid. He’ll also get some money from Republican and independent donors, especially those who agree with Lieberman’s support of Israel and continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
At a moment when Israel is at war with Hezbollah, Lieberman's candidacy has become a rallying point for those who think it would be a singularly bad time to end the Senate career of such a staunch champion of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said, “He can raise the money” to run a campaign. “There is a pro-Israel network of folks who are going to give to Lieberman because of his friendship to the Jewish community and because of who he is. Will he get all the money he’d have gotten as the Democratic nominee? Probably not, but I do think he can raise the money” to sustain a very credible campaign, Forman said.
Big donor base to draw on
In his presidential campaign in 2003-004, Lieberman got nearly 15,000 individual contributions; in his primary campaign this year he had received more than 5,700 individual contributions by July 19, according to the Federal Election Commission. (Lamont had gotten 1,100 individual contributions by July 19, according to the FEC.)
That’s a base from which Lieberman can start. If even a third of those donors write his campaign a $1,000 check, he’d have nearly $7 million, enough to mount a robust campaign. That figure does not include new Republican donations which will soon begin to flow in.
Contributions from political action committees (PACs) will be somewhat crimped. A number of corporate PACs, such as the National Beer Wholesalers' PAC, have already given Lieberman the maximum amount permitted, $5,000 for the primary, and $5,000 for the general election
Democrat Mitchell Berger, a Florida lawyer who has given money to the campaigns of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Kerry in the past and who was finance chairman for Lieberman’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he will donate money to Lieberman’s independent run and help raise money by talking to other donors.
“It would be tragic for the country to lose a man of his ability if he’s willing to serve,” said Berger.
Berger said many donors in Lieberman’s existing network will continue to back him because “usually that person has an independent relationship with Sen. Lieberman” that exists outside of their connection to the Democratic Party.
But he said Democrats are grateful for the work Lieberman has done in the past for the party. “He did a fundraiser for the Florida Democratic Party two years ago and raised a million dollars. People are going to remember him for things like that."
'He stood up to George Bush...'
Berger acknowledges that some Democrats have disagreements with Lieberman over Iraq. But, he added, “He stood up to George Bush to implement the reforms of the 9-11 Commission and to create the Department of Homeland Security. And he stood up to make sure we don’t have drilling off the coast of Florida. It is hard to walk away from that.”
Berger said Lieberman loyalists know he’s still a Democrat. “If Sen. Lieberman had said he’s not going to caucus with the Senate Democrats, that would be a problem, but he has said he will caucus with them,” Berger pointed out.
One Democrat who gave $1,000 to Lieberman's primary campaign, Washington attorney Heather Podesta, said Monday, when asked whether she'd chip in for his independent bid, "I'd rather not talk abut my political giving and what my plans are."
But quite willing to speak was Bruce Bialosky, a leading Republican donor in California, who said he will raise more than $10,000 for Lieberman.
On Tuesday night, once Lamont had defeated Lieberman, Bialosky sent an e-mail to the 2,000 people on his political list “expressing my despair over Lieberman’s loss in the primary” and making it clear he’d raise money for Lieberman’s independent bid. “I’ve never seen such a tremendous response” from his list, Bialosky said.
“This is not an issue of partisanship. This is a great American,” he said. “There are certain times when we have to cross party lines. Sen. Lieberman has clarity on the most important issue of our time. His opponent doesn’t have a clue.”
Crossing party lines
Bialosky said, “I’m not going to be happy if Lieberman votes for (Nevada Democrat) Harry Reid” as Senate Leader and “I don’t agree with him on most issues,” but “he is so clear on this issue” of defeating jihadists that he deserves support.
A Republican campaign fund-raiser based in Washington, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name, said, “There’s a definite sense among a significant number of the Republicans who I deal with that Joe Lieberman is a man of principle and a man we should support.”
This fund-raiser said he’ll contribute money to Lieberman’s campaign and raise money for him.
He noted that there is a school of thought in GOP ranks that sees Lamont as extreme in his views and would like to see him win in November. These Republicans think it would be tactically advantageous for their party to have Lamont in the Senate during the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign so that they could say to voters, “Look at what we’re running against.”
But this source said he himself didn’t take that view, saying “There are a lot of people who’d like to say to Moveon.org, ‘It’s dangerous to squelch bipartisan leaders like Joe Lieberman.’”
Moveon.org is the anti-Bush group which worked to defeat Lieberman in last Tuesday's primary. Last week Moveon.org's Eli Pariser said the group members "made 77,000 calls to get Connecticut voters to the polls and put Lamont over the top."
GOP leader non-committal
In an interview Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman pointedly refused to endorse the official Republican nominee, Schlesinger.
“My leadership in the state (of Connecticut) has said to me you ought to stay out of this one,” Mehlman told NBC’s David Gregory. He also said he was not endorsing Lieberman.
As of the beginning of July, Schlesinger had $75,000 in his campaign war chest, a pittance compared to the $2 million Lieberman has. Schlesinger is likely to remain a negligible factor in this race.
On Fox News Sunday Lamont addressed the question of Israel’s security by saying, “We've destabilized the Middle East and we've done nothing for Israel's security” by sending troops to Iraq.
Some Democrats who are supporters of Israel are uneasy about Lamont’s embrace of Al Sharpton who clashed with Jewish leaders in New York in the 1980s and 1990s and Jesse Jackson who once famously embraced Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.
Other say Lamont’s statements supporting Israel don’t put him in the same league with Lieberman.
“Lamont has made good statements on Israel. I wouldn’t want to equate that with Joe Lieberman’s record,” said Forman. “He has been there for 18 years. It would be hard for anybody to have a comparable record” of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.