I probably shouldn’t be so obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont race, but I can’t help it.
This seems to be the week when the Republican right (Kondracke, Chris Caldwell) has decided to make Joe Lieberman’s cause their own. Which is fine, but their opinion about who should be the Democratic nominee in a state they don’t live in is about as relevant as my opinion about who should be the next president of France. (Anyone interested in my strongly-held opinion on the latter question, the answer is here.)
But at the same time, the actual Democrats supporting Lieberman seemed to have figured out what contributors to TPMCafe and others have been saying for months: Lieberman got himself into this situation, and every day he makes it worse. The other day, while looking for some of those "savage, internet-based attacks" that Kondracke laments, I came across the blog "Lieberdem," devoted mostly to savage, internet-based attacks on Mr. Lamont and those they call "Nedheads." Lieberdem has two contributors, one being Dan Gerstein, who I recall vaguely from years ago when he, Lieberman, and Bill Bennett were trying to stamp out the threat to America’s families posed by "Melrose Place." (And especially, of course, the show’s single, chaste gay character.) While Gerstein’s contributions to the blog read like a dark-side imitation of David Sirota, his counterpart, Matt Smith, seems a little more grounded. Here’s Smith on Friday:
Joe Lieberman’s campaign has looked as if it has been in a constant state of panic ever since Lamont’s campaign started to look serious. ...Even Lieberman himself has acted like he never saw this coming. Many political observers have noticed it, and so have I.
Ned Lamont has every right to run against Joe Lieberman in the primary, and Democratic voters have every right to support him...
Lieberman simply never saw this coming, and still hasn’t gotten over the initial shock of Lamont’s entry into the race. The initial surprise is somewhat understandable. He’s a three-term Senator with a strong record on nearly all progressive causes who has not faced a serious electoral challenge at home in 18 years. Lieberman realized that most Democrats in his state disagreed with him on the Iraq War, but it probably was hard for Lieberman to imagine that any single issue could fuel a serious intraparty challenge to him.
His campaign staff also seems like they never expected to have to run a real campaign. So at first they seemed to ignore Lamont’s challenge, probably expecting it to fade fast. It didn’t, and Lieberman’s campaign came to realize that Lamont’s challenge was serious. And what they did next is mind-boggling: Instead of reminding the voters of Lieberman’s strong history on progressive causes, their campaign increasingly focused on disqualifying Lamont.
I can’t think of a polite word to describe that strategy. I agree with the general rule that if the incumbent’s campaign can make the election about the challenger, that the incumbent will almost certainly win. But that simply was never going to happen and will never happen in this race. Lieberman is one of the most prominent politicians in the state’s - and indeed in the nation’s - recent history. By contrast, Lamont has no record, and virtually no one had ever heard Ned Lamont’s name before this year. Ned Lamont is a vehicle for opposition to Lieberman; the campaign will never be about him...
The vast majority of voters voting for Lamont were doing so not because they supported Lamont, but because they were against Lieberman. Consequently, any campaign strategy that was designed to damage Lamont in the eyes of voters has always been and will always be doomed to failure. As the Hotline On Call blog asked this weekend "Are negative ads what really what Lieberman needs right now? Aren’t voters looking for a reason to come back to Lieberman?"
They are, and they have plenty of reasons to. Joe Lieberman is hardly out of the mainstream of the Democratic party - one need only look at his voting record to see this - and Lieberman’s long history of fighting for progressive causes cannot seriously be questioned. Iraq is admittedly a big thorn in Lieberman’s side, but less than a quarter of all voters and just 33% of Democrats said Iraq was the top issue for them in this election.
Lieberman clearly can improve if his campaign just reminds voters of how strong he is on the traditional progressive issues of education, the environment, civil rights, choice, worker’s rights, and virtually every other progressive cause that you can think of. Those same Quinnipiac polls still show that a majority of Democrats think he deserves to be re-elected, and the loyalty of his supporters runs deep.
The Quinnipiac polls show, as they always have, that Lieberman would easily dispatch of Lamont in the general election. However, it really should not come to that, and it’s never too late to break bad habits. There are plenty of reasons for Democrats to vote for Lieberman. He and the members of his campaign need to remind voters of what they are, or else be willing to accept a good share of the responsibility if Lieberman loses on August 8.
All very true. Lieberman’s not the first politician, Senators especially, to lose touch with his voters. Senators have a tendency to think that the people who voted for them six years earlier are some kind of loyal base, forgetting that six years is a long time; people move in, move out, turn 18, etc.; and that all those people did six years ago was a 10-second act of expressing a preference for you over your opponent. (Lieberman’s opponent from six years ago is now serving a 37-year prison term for pedophilia, so it wasn’t much of a choice.) It’s one reason Senate races tend to be more competitive, and more often surprising, than House races. Sometimes it catches a Senator totally by surprise right before the election, as in Rudy Boschwitz’s 1990 loss to Paul Wellstone. But Lieberman has had plenty of warning, plenty of opportunity to reestablish his connection with voters. And the first step would have been to acknowledge, as Smith does, that "Lamont has every right to run," and then make his own case.