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Posted at 12:57 PM ET, 01/19/2011

Lieberman on his exit: Politics changed, I didn't

By Aaron Blake

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Sen. Joe Lieberman announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection in 2012, saying his politics don't fit in today's political spectrum.

In announcing his impending exit, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee who became an independent five years ago defended his record by saying that he was doing what he thought was right, regardless of party.

The Connecticut senator blamed his problems with the Democratic base on the changing politics of the day rather than his own changing politics, pointing to himself as a John F. Kennedy kind of Democrat.

"The politics of President Kennedy -- patriotic service to country, support of civil rights and social justice, pro-growth economic and tax policies, and a strong national defense -- are still my politics," Lieberman said. "So maybe that means that JFK wouldn't fit into any of today's partisan political boxes neatly."

Lieberman, characteristically, wasn't backing down from the controversial stands he's made over the years. While discussing his accomplishments on the Senate Homeland Security Committee (where he still serves as chairman), he alluded briefly to the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan "from brutally repressive, anti-American dictatorships.

"Along the way, I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes -- maybe you've noticed that -- Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative," said Lieberman, who still caucuses with Democrats and remains registered as one. "I have always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state, and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them."

Lieberman's problems with his party began with his full-throated support for the war in Iraq early last decade, and he lost a 2006 Democratic primary based largely on that issue. He went on to run as an independent and has since referred to himself as an "independent Democrat."

His willingness to stir the pot within his caucus and with the Democratic base has continued to hurt his standing with the liberal base -- a reality that already had two well-known Democrats eyeing the Democratic primary to run against him. Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) jumped in the race Tuesday, and Rep. Chris Murphy (D) is expected to follow suit soon.

Lieberman was considered one of the more vulnerable senators who are up for reelection in 2010, and Republicans were also looking to take him down. Former Rep. Rob Simmons and former wrestling executive Linda McMahon are both considering repeat bids after falling short in 2010.

The pressure from the right might have made things even tougher for Lieberman, who won in 2006 thanks to a large amount of support from Republicans, who didn't have a viable nominee of their own.

Lieberman had even entertained the idea of running as a Republican, with the other options being another independent run or a return to the Democratic primary.

In the end, though, he said he has served long enough and shrugged off the notion that he has been forced out.

"So what else is new? It probably would be a difficult campaign for me, but I've run many difficult campaigns before," Lieberman said. "I've never shied from a good fight, and I never will."

News of Lieberman's retirement broke late Tuesday, just hours after another chairman, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced his own exit.

Democrats are favored to hold the seat in Connecticut, while Republicans have a prime pickup opportunity in North Dakota.

By Aaron Blake  | January 19, 2011; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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