by WILLIAM YARDLEY (front page, NY Times 4 July 2006)
HARTFORD July 3 – Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said on Monday that he would run as an independent Democratic candidate if he loses the state Democratic primary next month. The announcement by Mr. Lieberman, a political moderate and longtime party leader seeking his fourth term, underscores the increasing vulnerability he feels over his support for the Iraq war.
Reacting to a strong challenge from Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman and political newcomer who has criticized him for supporting President Bush on the war and other issues, Senator Lieberman said that he would begin gathering the 7,500 petition signatures necessary to put his name on the ballot should he lose the primary on Aug. 8.
He said that even if elected as a petition candidate, he would remain "a proud Democrat" and would caucus with other Democratic senators. Still, the prospect that Mr. Lieberman may challenge his own party's nominee is a startling turn for the senator, who has spent his entire three decades in politics within the Democratic Party and ran as its vice-presidential nominee in 2000 alongside Al Gore.
The senator's announcement signaled his growing concern over Mr. Lamont's candidacy. Left-leaning Internet bloggers have marked Mr. Lieberman for defeat, drawing national attention and money for Mr. Lamont and posing a difficult choice for Democratic leaders, who have vigorously backed Mr. Lieberman. [News analysis, Page C11.]
But Mr. Lieberman's move also reflected his apparent belief, hinted at in his remarks and borne out by polls, that his popularity with independents and Republicans would make him a strong challenger in the fall if Mr. Lamont were to win the primary.
"While I believe that I will win the Aug. 8 primary, I know that there are no guarantees in elections," Mr. Lieberman said at a brief news conference at the State Capitol with his wife, Hadassah, beside him. The results, he said, could be skewed by a low turnout in a sultry August, or a last-minute media barrage by his opponent, who has already spent more than $1 million on his campaign.
"My friends," the senator said, "after 18 years of working for, fighting for and delivering for all the people of Connecticut, I want the opportunity to put my case before all the people of Connecticut in November."
For months, Senator Lieberman, 64, has refused to rule out an independent run as his support in the party waned. Mr. Lamont, who announced his candidacy in March, won a surprising one-third of the votes at the party's state convention in May; a June 8 Quinnipac University poll found him drawing to within 15 percentage points of the senator among likely primary voters.
Senator Lieberman's decision to announce that he would gather signatures was determined in part by the tight election calendar this year: Petitions must be submitted by 4 p.m. on Aug. 9, just a day after the primary.
Mr. Lamont's campaign seized on the announcement as evidence that Senator Lieberman was both vulnerable in the primary and disloyal to his party.
"If he wants to run as a Democrat then run as a Democrat stop trying to game the system," Mr. Lamont said in a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Meriden. "I don't see why he needs the extra insurance policy."
He added, "I think he is trying to have it both ways, and on an awful lot of important issues over the last 18 years, he's tried to have it both ways."
Mr. Lamont, 52, said he was confident that Democratic voters would remain loyal to the winner of the August primary and that if Mr. Lieberman were to run as an independent candidate he would only split the Republican vote.
Still, Senator Lieberman so far has the public support of every prominent elected Democrat in the state, and he said that many had promised to redouble their support in a round of phone calls he made to state and national party leaders on Monday morning.
He remains ahead in primary polls, although his lead has steadily slipped, according to Quinnipiac's polls. He led 55 percent to 40 percent among likely Democratic primary voters in the June poll, and his lead was wider, 57 to 32, among all registered Democrats. But a month earlier, a poll showed a spread of 65 to 19 among all Democrats.
If the senator loses in August, he will be in a three-way race in November, facing Mr. Lamont and the Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger, a relatively little-known former state representative.
The June poll showed that Senator Lieberman had a higher approval rating among Republicans and independents, the state's largest voting bloc, than he did among Democrats. And in a potential three-way race, with Mr. Lieberman running as an independent, the poll showed the senator winning 56 percent of the vote, compared with 18 percent for Mr. Lamont and 8 percent for Mr. Schlesinger.
Some Democrats said on Monday that Mr. Lieberman would damage his standing with Democratic voters, and perhaps others, by effectively saying he would ignore the primary results if he lost.
"He's going for two bites at the apple," said George Jepsen, the immediate past chairman of the State Democratic Party, who recently endorsed Mr. Lamont. "It violates people's fundamental sense of fairness."
But in his announcement, Senator Lieberman described the primary as an incomplete reflection of voter will, hinting that he feared a strong turnout from the impassioned supporters of Mr. Lamont.
"If 30 percent of the Democrats come out and vote, that's about 210,000 people," Mr. Lieberman said. "That means 105,000 plus one will win the primary. There's 2 million voters, registered voters, in the state of Connecticut. That would mean that 5 percent of the registered voters would have the opportunity to decide whether I continue to be Connecticut's senator or not."
Democratic Party leaders said they supported the senator in the primary, but would not say much more.
"We aren't going to speculate about what happens next because that would undermine our candidate," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Nancy DiNardo, the current chairwoman of the state party, said that she supported Senator Lieberman, the party's endorsed candidate, but that in the general election she would back whoever won the primary.
In 1988, Senator Lieberman won his seat by upsetting Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the three-term Republican incumbent.
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