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CAMPAIGN 2000

Dual Run Costs Lieberman Respect

Campaign: Senator's colleagues see 'selfish' motives, and a lack of confidence in his White House bid, behind his refusal to resign Connecticut seat.

October 27, 2000|ELIZABETH MEHREN and GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HARTFORD, Conn. — It would be hard to find a politician more beloved in this state than the man many voters call "our Joe," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. But with his apparent decision to let pass today's deadline for withdrawing from his Senate reelection campaign, the Democratic vice presidential candidate is sorely testing that affection, at least among many party leaders here and in Washington.

These officials voice discontent that is muffled but close to the surface. By hedging his political bets, they complain, Lieberman trumpets self-interest--not to mention an alarming lack of confidence in the prospects of the Democratic ticket headed by Al Gore.

State Rep. Jefferson Davis is one of the few Democrats to say publicly what many murmur privately--that Lieberman would have best served his state and his party by giving up his Senate bid. "Absolutely, he's trying to have it both ways," Davis said.

That attitude extends to Washington. New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, revealed recently in a television interview that the "vast majority" of Senate Democrats thought that Lieberman should have been willing to give up his seat.

These colleagues worry that twin Lieberman victories on election day--while meaning the Democrats have retained the White House--will hurt the party's efforts to either diminish the GOP's four-seat Senate majority or take control of the chamber. That's because a GOP governor would appoint Lieberman's Senate replacement, and presumably he would pick another Republican.

Bradley Outlines Ironic Scenario

On Thursday, former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) joined those saying Lieberman should drop his Senate bid. "It would be an irony if Al Gore wins the presidency and we lose the Senate by one vote," Bradley said in Seattle as he campaigned for Gore.

A Democratic source on Capitol Hill, who like most was unwilling to be quoted publicly, was more blunt. "You hear words like 'unbelievably selfish' [about Lieberman] from Democrats on the Hill," the source said.

John Orman, a political science professor at Connecticut's Fairfield University, tried unsuccessfully to block Lieberman's Senate run through the courts. He said his lawsuit was inspired in part by Lieberman's own words.

"I just read his book, 'In Praise of Public Life,' where he says public servants should ask not if something's legal, but if it's right," said Orman, who termed himself a longtime Lieberman supporter.

He added: "Here he was, one of my heroes. I was disappointed that anyone in America would do this, but especially Joe Lieberman."

Lieberman has rebuffed such criticism since Gore picked him as his running mate in early August, and he reiterated Thursday his intention to remain a Senate candidate.

Lieberman Says He Sought to Avoid 'Chaos'

"I promised no October surprises, and there will be none," he said. "I really think it would be, in many ways, an act of bad faith if I pulled out at this point."

Had he dropped out, Lieberman has said, there would have been no time for another primary, forcing the 72-member Democratic State Central Committee to find a replacement. The result, he said, would have been "chaos."

Publicly, most Democrats echo the position of state Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who said, "It really is Joe's decision to make." But Blumenthal--the clear choice within the party to serve as Lieberman's replacement--made no secret that he would have jumped at the chance to do so.

Two statewide polls showed voters evenly divided on whether Lieberman should step aside. A survey by the University of Connecticut also found that Blumenthal could easily defeat the Republican candidate, Phil Giordano.

If Gore and Lieberman prevail in November, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland is expected to choose GOP Reps. Nancy L. Johnson or Christopher Shays for the vacant Senate seat. The chosen replacement would serve for two years, with the Senate seat then coming up for election again in 2002.

Connecticut Democrats worry that once either Republican settled into the seat, they might prove tough to beat. Agreeing with that analysis was state lobbyist Thomas D'Amore, a former Republican activist who became an independent when he worked for former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

"Two years, I think, would be tantamount to incumbency," said D'Amore.

D'Amore added that Lieberman's decision to remain a Senate candidate "doesn't ennoble the process or him. It's self-serving, period."

Before Lieberman, the best-known dual candidacy was run by Lyndon B. Johnson, who won reelection to his Texas Senate seat in 1960 while also being elected vice president on the Democratic ticket headed by John F. Kennedy. Fellow Texan Lloyd Bentsen took the same route in 1988 when he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Bentsen easily won reelection to his Senate seat while the presidential ticket headed by Michael S. Dukakis went down to defeat.

Davis, the Connecticut state representative, said of those precedents: "In Texas, maybe you can get away with it. In Connecticut, we hold our elected officials to higher standards."

Giving Lieberman some benefit of the doubt in his choice was Yale University professor of politics John Lapinski.

"If you're looking at what's best for the Democratic Party and what's best for Joe Lieberman, Joe Lieberman is doing what's best for him," Lapinski said. "It's selfish, but it's a little more complicated than that," given the closeness of the presidential race.

"So if Gore and Lieberman win, [Connecticut voters] will say it was selfish for Joe to stay in the Senate race. If they lose, they'll thank God he didn't drop out," Lapinski said.

*

Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this story.

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