Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Senator Lieberman Faces Strong Challenge Over Iraq

Iraq is expected to be a major factor in this year's U.S. congressional election campaign. In the second of two reports, VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on how Iraq has become a prominent issue in the Senate race in Connecticut involving one of the country's best known Democrats, Joseph Lieberman.

Liberal Democrats in Connecticut are upset with Senator Lieberman for his strong support for the war in Iraq.

So upset, in fact, that Senator Lieberman faces a strong challenge from fellow Democrat Ned Lamont in a primary election on August 8.

During a recent televised debate, challenger Lamont focused on Lieberman's support for the Iraq war.

"And Senator Lieberman, if you will not challenge President Bush and his failed agenda, I will," he said. "And we have 135,000 of our bravest troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war, and I say that those who got us into this mess should be held accountable. Let us have the debate."

Joe Lieberman has long been one of Connecticut's most popular politicians, with a record of appealing to Democrats, independents, and even moderate Republicans.

But after three six-year terms in the Senate, Lieberman finds himself in a tough re-election battle with a little known challenger, and he is fighting hard to keep his seat.

"Ned Lamont seems just to be running against me based on my stand on one issue, Iraq, and he is distorting who I am and what I have done," Lieberman said. "So let me tell you some things that may surprise at least Ned, but should not. I know George Bush. I have worked against George Bush. I have even run against George Bush. But Ned, I am not George Bush.

Recent polls give Lieberman a slight edge over Lamont, but political experts say the race remains in doubt because many Connecticut Democrats are angry over Lieberman's steadfast support for the Iraq war.

"It seems to be a bellwether [indicator] election," said John Orman, a professor of politics at Fairfield University in Connecticut.. "It is coming very early and it is going to let citizens know how important that issue is going to be, especially in a Democrat [leaning] state like Connecticut. There seems to be a battle in Connecticut for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party."

The Lieberman-Lamont primary race in Connecticut is getting national attention. Many congressional Democrats who voted for the war will be watching to see to what extent unhappy Democratic voters take out their anger over Iraq on Senator Lieberman.

"The party overwhelmingly is opposed to the Iraq war and wants to see a schedule announced of withdrawal. They differ about how quickly the withdrawal should take place, but overwhelmingly they are in favor of a withdrawal," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Even if Senator Lieberman loses the Democratic primary on August 8, he could still be a candidate in the November election.

Lieberman has already taken steps to run as an independent candidate should he lose the Democratic primary by collecting signatures on petitions that would allow him on the November ballot as an independent.

Fairfield University professor John Orman says Lieberman still has appeal that cuts across party lines.

"And of course, he has strong support in the state among undecided independents, unaffiliated [voters] and even among many Republicans," he said. "They are saying now that they will cross over and vote for Joe Lieberman if he is an independent [candidate]."

But an independent Senate bid by Lieberman may not draw the kind of national Democratic Party support that he is used to.

Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and John Kerry of Massachusetts both say they will back the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, even if their longtime colleague loses to political newcomer Ned Lamont.