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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 01/18/2011

Bysiewicz to run for Senate as Dems prepare for another pitched primary

By Aaron Blake

Updated at 1:41 p.m.

Democrats in Connecticut appear to be headed for another contentious Senate primary in 2012.

Six years after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) lost the Democratic primary and won reelection as an independent, ambitious Democrats are again lining up against him. The first is former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, who announced her candidacy this morning.

Lieberman, meanwhile, said that he will make an announcement on his reelection plans on Wednesday. His options that include retirement, another independent run or a run at the Democratic nomination.

But regardless of his plans, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Bysiewicz will face a formidable primary opponent, most likely in the form of Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Murphy has been eyeing the race for several years and is seen as an up-and-coming politician in Connecticut. Those close to him say a decision is coming in the relatively near future, and he's VERY likely to run.

Bysiewicz is formidable in her own right, of course, as a statewide elected official with the name identification that comes along with it. And a poll conducted for her impending campaign demonstrates that she starts the race as the frontrunner.

The poll, obtained by The Fix and conducted by Bennett, Petts and Normington, shows Bysiewicz with a 46 percent to 37 percent lead on Murphy. Bysiewicz's name identification is 80 percent for Bysiewicz while Murphy stands at 70 percent.

Bysiewicz also holds a slight lead in a three-way general-election matchup with Lieberman and 2010 GOP Senate nominee Linda McMahon, taking 34 percent to 30 percent for Lieberman and 28 percent for McMahon.

Bysiewicz has long been seen as a top candidate, but the events of the last year have hurt her political stock in the state, at least in the minds of some Connecticut Democrats.

Bysiewicz was the clear frontrunner in the state's open governor's race in 2010, but she unexpectedly dropped out and opted to run for attorney general when then-attorney general Richard Blumenthal decided to run for Senate.

Before the Democratic primary though, the state Supreme Court ruled that Bysiewicz didn't have the required experience as a practicing lawyer, and she was ruled ineligible to run for the office. (Whoops!)

Even those who note her stumbles, though, say she remains viable.

"She's very aggressive, very smart woman, got a lot of guts and I guess is determined to get back into public life, so it will make it very interesting," said Lieberman adviser John Droney.

It's not yet clear what Lieberman will announce Wednesday. After losing the Democratic primary in 2006, though, it seems unlikely he would want to face another contested primary.

He said recently on MSNBC that it's more likely he runs as an independent. And a rough-and-tumble Democratic primary could prove beneficial.

"If Joe makes the race and doesn't run as Democrat, it will be an interesting and I'm sure bare-knuckle primary for what most people consider the best position in politics," Droney said.

In a statement, Murphy said he expects to announce his intentions "very soon."

State Attorney General George Jepsen (D), who is close to Murphy, suggested the congressman would be ready for the matchup.

"I think Murphy is a rising star who can stand up and make a pretty strong case -- a very, very compelling case," said Jepsen, a former state Democratic Party chairman who won his office after Bysiewicz was kicked out of the race.

A Bysiewicz adviser said her troubles in 2010 were overblown and pointed to her personal approval numbers in the poll. Among Democratic voters, 74 percent approved of her performance while 15 percent disapproved. Among all voters, her approval is at 58 percent, with just 24 percent disapproving.

"Despite [the problems], she still leads, has very strong job numbers and has always been a great fundraiser," said the Bysiewicz adviser.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) has also left open the possibility of running for Senate. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the GOP side, former wrestling executive McMahon is looking at a repeat bid after spending $50 million of her own money on a loss to Blumenthal. Former Rep. Rob Simmons is also weighing the race.

By Aaron Blake  | January 18, 2011; 11:56 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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