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Analysts Say Lieberman Defeat Indicates Iraq Will Be Major Issue in US Elections

The primary defeat of veteran Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut strongly suggests that the Iraq war will be a central issue in the November midterm congressional elections.

It was only six years ago that Joe Lieberman was Al Gore's vice presidential running mate in the 2000 presidential election.

After three terms in the Senate, Lieberman had built a reputation as one of the leading moderates in the Democratic Party, an advocate for a strong defense and an aggressive approach to the war on terror.

But Lieberman angered liberal Democrats in his home state with his strong support for the war in Iraq and what they perceived as closeness to President Bush.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"This is a big deal," said Mr. Sabato. "Rarely do senators lose their own party primaries and it is extremely rare for a national Democrat, who has been the party's vice presidential nominee, to be ousted."

Lieberman's defeat came at the hands of political novice Ned Lamont. Lamont supports a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, something Lieberman opposes. He has also accused Lieberman of being a cheerleader for President Bush and urged Connecticut Democrats to send an anti-war message to the rest of the country by voting against Lieberman.

"Stay the course. That is not a winning strategy in Iraq and it is not a winning strategy for America," Mr. Lamont's ad said.

Some prominent Democrats are now rushing to endorse Lamont in the November election, including Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Lieberman says he will run as an independent candidate in November, pitting him against Democrat Lamont and a little known Republican contender.

Lieberman also told NBC television that he will not change his view on Iraq.

"I think it would be a disaster for us, our troops, Iraq and the whole Middle East if we did what my opponent wants to do and pull all of our troops out by a deadline certain," Senator Lieberman said.

Analyst Larry Sabato says Lieberman paid a price among liberal Democrats, because of his willingness to support the Bush administration on Iraq.

"For Joe Lieberman, this was a perfect storm," he explained. "He comes from a heavily Democratic state that is very strongly anti-Bush and very strongly anti-Iraq. And yet oddly, as a Democratic senator from that state, he stood with Bush and has consistently been with Bush on Iraq."

Political experts say the Lieberman defeat is a strong indication that the war in Iraq will be a central issue in the November congressional elections.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution appeared on VOA's Talk to America program.

"I see actually the country becoming very discouraged by developments in Iraq, worried about having our men and women of the armed services put in the middle of a civil war, uncertain about exactly what to do but wanting to see an end to this at some point in the not too distant future," said Mann.

Republicans may have cause to worry in the wake of the Lieberman defeat. Public disenchantment over the war could help Democrats pick up the 15 seats they need to win back control of the House of Representatives or the six seats required to take over the Senate.

Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress since 1994.

But many analysts also see the Lieberman result as further proof of a deep split within the Democratic Party over Iraq, between liberals who want to leave quickly and moderates who fear a speedy pullout of troops would result in further chaos.

John Fortier is with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He believes the debate over Iraq within the Democratic Party will continue to play out well into the next presidential campaign two years from now.

"As for the 2008 race, it definitely shows that there is a strong anti-war feeling in the Democratic Party and how that translates into the presidential election will be an important story," said Fortier.

Iraq will not be the only election issue in November. Public concerns over the economy and high domestic fuel prices are expected to get a lot of attention, as well as other domestic issues like health care and illegal immigration.