Joe Lieberman’s Two Front War

Posted: October 17, 2006 in 2006 Elections

I watched most of today’s Connecticut Senate debate, featuring Joe Lieberman, Ned Lamont, and Alan Schlesinger.

I assumed that it was going to be a constant back and forth between Lamont and Lieberman, with Schlesinger trying to get an occasional comment in or someone to notice that he was in the debate as well.

My assumption was wrong.

Alan Schlesinger, polling in the mid-single digits range, had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain in the debate, and it showed. He was the clear winner, by far. He showed an understanding of the issues and had the right combination of energy, political irreverence, and use of rhetoric to stand out among the candidates. Lieberman, being the 18-year Senate veteran, not surprisingly was the first candidate to burn through his 18 minutes of response time. Lamont sounded like he was trying to cram as many words as possible into each of his responses, essentially going into long John Kerry-esque musings while sounding as if someone was playing a tape on fast forward.

Schlesinger went after both of his opponents, although it seemed to me most of his jabs were directed at Lieberman, who is relying on Republican money and votes in his independent candidacy to try to save his political career. Lieberman was at a disadvantage, since at several points in the debate he had both Lamont and Schlesinger double-teaming him.

While Schlesinger may have been the winner of the debate, the big beneficiary was Lamont. If Schlesinger can shore up some more support from conservative Republicans by tapping into Lieberman’s base, Lieberman could lose the race.

Lamont is aware of this, and he even implicitly encouraged Schlesinger to play spoiler in the race at one point during the debate, recounting his own experience bucking his own party in his decision to challenge Lieberman.

Lieberman is stuck in a political no-man’s land. He’s essentially given up on the Democratic activist base that rejected him in the primary so is now forced to appeal to conservatives, moderates, and independents. Lieberman’s strategy has been to shore up support from conservatives and independents, who when combined outnumber the liberals in Connecticut’s registered voters. If Schlesinger starts tapping into the conservative base in the polls, Lieberman would be facing a challenge from his right flank, and that would mean he would have to fend off both Lamont and Schlesinger for the next three weeks.

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