A new opinion poll of Connecticut voters released Thursday indicates Sen. Joe Lieberman — rejected by his own party — can nevertheless make the electoral math add up for a win on Nov. 7.
The new Quinnipiac survey found that, among voters likely to cast ballots in November, Lieberman has 12-point lead over the man who beat him in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary, Ned Lamont.
The poll indicates that, as he did in his last Senate election in 2000, Lieberman gets strong support from Republican voters.
He also wins more than a third of Democrats, despite the fact that he’s no longer his party’s official nominee.
Iraq a big issue
The three-term Democratic senator, his party’s vice presidential candidate six years ago, drew fire from Lamont for his support of the Iraq war.
Analysts see their battle as a kind of referendum on the direction of the Democratic Party.
Fifty-three percent of likely voters back Lieberman, according to the Quinnipiac poll, compared to 41 percent for Lamont who has called for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. “I’d support bringing them home on a deadline,” said Lamont on Aug. 2. “I’d bring them home within a year.”
The poll surveyed 1,083 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. It was conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 14.
Under-funded Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger, shunned by national GOP leaders, garnered only four percent.
Lieberman has filed petitions to get on the Nov. 7 ballot as an independent Democrat, after Lamont defeated him in the Democratic primary, 52 percent to 48 percent. About 280,000 Democrats voted in that primary.
Democrats in a quandary
The Lamont-Lieberman struggle has divided Democrats and left the party’s most active donors in a quandary about which candidate to support.
A few Democratic senators, such as Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, are sticking with Lieberman, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, (DSCC) headed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is throwing its weight behind Lamont.
Lamont spent $4 million from his own fortune to win the primary and party leaders might expect him to self-fund much of his camp against Lieberman.
But ordinarily the DSCC invests in its own advertising effort to help its candidates. If DSCC does that in Connecticut it would siphon resources away from close Senate races in Missouri, Pennsylvania, and other states.
If Lieberman were to win on Nov. 7, Democratic Senate leaders would face the task of reconciling with the man they spent three months trying to oust.
In a closely divided Senate, Lieberman might be in the position Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont faced in 2000 when he gave the Democrats the majority by abandoning his former party. Democrats praised Jeffords for what they called his “courage” when he left the GOP.
Kerry raising funds for Lamont
In a fund-raising pitch e-mailed out Wednesday afternoon, the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., urged Democrats to donate to Lamont.
Lamont and other anti-war Democrats deserve financial support, Kerry argued, calling them “strong leaders who aren't afraid to tell the truth about Iraq….It's time to reward their courage.”
Kerry predicted that “in the Senate, Ned Lamont will go head to head with Don Rumsfeld, and our troops will benefit from Lamont's leadership.”
Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, will be campaigning with Lamont in Connecticut Thursday.
The Lieberman campaign hopes to shift the focus for the next 80 days from Lieberman himself, whom some Democratic voters see as complacent and out of touch, to Lamont, making the argument that Lamont isn’t qualified to be a senator.
A strategist involved in Lieberman’s primary battle with Lamont, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “The primary race was about us, so much about us that we couldn’t get consensus from our team about how to go after Lamont.”
Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein said Wednesday, “We’re speaking to a much broader audience” than the senator was addressing in the primary. Lieberman has emphasized his ability to work with Republicans, even though he opposes President Bush on gay rights, abortion, tax policy, oil drilling in Alaska, and many other issues.
Indicators from 2000 race
In the 2000 Senate race, exit poll interviews indicated that Lieberman won the backing of 86 percent of self-identified Republicans, but of only nine percent of independents. Lieberman easily defeated Republican Philip Giordano in that race.
Connecticut has about two million active voters, 21 percent of them Republicans, 35 percent of them Democrats, and 44 percent independents.
Thursday's Quinnipiac poll showed Lieberman getting support from 75 percent of self-identified Republicans.
Among independent voters, Lieberman got 58 percent, compared to 36 percent for Lamont and three percent for Schlesinger.
Lamont got nearly two out of three Democrats.
But the data suggests that is not enough for him to win: he would need to bring home more loyal Democrats and expand his reach among independents in order to prevail.
In the primary, Lamont was weak in the old blue-collar cities and towns such as Waterbury, where he got less than 40 percent of Democratic votes; he was strongest in upper-income towns such as Wilton and Redding.