Lieberman defeat shows anger with status quo

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NewsAnalysis

An uprising of Democratic voters in Connecticut delivered a stunning victory to peace candidate Ned Lamont over three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Aug. 8 primary. It was a revolt against the policies of the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Defying the mandate of the vote, Lieberman is now campaigning on the “Connecticut for Lieberman” line. Of voters polled, 61 percent said Lieberman should not run as an independent after losing the primary. Efforts in Connecticut and around the country have been launched to get Lieberman to bow out.

“The status quo must be transformed, and the voters recognized in Ned Lamont a forceful advocate for change,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. She called on Lieberman to “stand down from further campaigning.”

Lamont, who emerged from a 50 point deficit to win with a 4 point lead of 10,000 votes, gained support with his slogan, “If Joe Lieberman won’t stand up to George Bush, I will.” He galvanized voters by calling for an end to the war in Iraq and bringing home the $250 million a day being spent on the war, to use it for universal health care, public schools and good jobs.

New voters swelled the ranks of the Democratic Party in order to participate in the election. Over 14,500 unaffiliated voters switched their registration to Democrat, and 14,380 registered to vote for the first time. On the day of the primary, 43 percent came to the polls, up from the usual 25 percent.

It is anticipated that the momentum from the Lamont campaign will aid Democratic challengers to three vulnerable Republican House incumbents in Connecticut.

Alarmed by the prospects of a political realignment, Karl Rove and right-wing spin-doctors called the primary results a terrorist threat. Vice President Cheney lamented that voters would “purge a man like Joe Lieberman” because “the al Qaeda types … are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people.” The next day, Lieberman himself cited the terrorist bomb scare in Britain as a reason that he must continue to serve in the Senate.

These scare tactics have been met with outrage. MoveOn.org is urging letters to the editor across the country to reject this baseless Republican posturing on security.

National pundits are attempting to paint the Lamont victory as one that will marginalize Democrats in the November elections. Refuting that claim, Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, called the Lamont victory “a triumph for the new moral center … that represents a growing voter revolt against the failed policies and politics of the Bush administration and its congressional enablers, particularly the debacle in Iraq.”

In a further attempt to undermine the election, right-wing talk show hosts are mocking Lamont as “some rich guy with no experience,” a frequent refrain from Lieberman’s stump speech.

In fact, Lieberman, with a $12 million war chest, spent twice as much as Lamont in the campaign. Lamont, a millionaire who founded a cable company, refused political action committee monies and relied on grassroots support. Lieberman emphasized his contributions from unions, but his treasury was flooded with contributions from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other national conservative PACs.

Asked in a press conference if Bush will support the Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger, whose support is less than 10 percent in polls, White House spokesperson Tony Snow declined to answer. Snow also declined to say if the president prefers Lieberman, who has won endorsement from New York’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

During the primary, both campaigns attracted support from national Democratic leaders, labor organizations and women’s rights and civil rights leaders. Most of them pledged to support whoever won the primary. Unions and other organizations that had endorsed Lieberman are now reassessing what they will do for the general election.

The Machinists union and both teachers unions endorsed Lamont in protest against Lieberman’s support for NAFTA, CAFTA and school vouchers. Most unions endorsed Lieberman in the primary, acknowledging that he had walked their picket lines.

Aside from this race, labor’s top priority is to defeat three vulnerable Republican U.S. representatives in the state’s 2nd, 4th and 5th Congressional Districts. The challenges of Joe Courtney to Rob Simmons, Diane Farrell to Chris Shays and Chris Murphy to Nancy Johnson are all top tier competitive races nationally. These House campaigns can serve to unify opposition to the Bush agenda.

Joelle Fishman is chair of the Communist Party USA’s Political Action Commission. She lives in New Haven, Conn.