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CT Senate: Lieberman's Primary Challenge

Businessman Ned Lamont formally declared his challenge to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman Monday, setting up the first primary fight the Democratic incumbent has faced since winning his seat in 1988.

Sen. Joe Lieberman
Joe Lieberman was his party's VP nominee in 2000. Six years later, some Democrats are grumbling about him being too cozy with the White House. (File Photo by Getty Images)

Lamont's announcement was not unexpected, as he has been talking publicly about a bid for months, attacking Lieberman as a wolf in sheep's clothing for his support for President Bush on the war in Iraq. In his announcement speech, Lamont derided Lieberman as "George Bush's favorite Democrat" and "Republican Lite," according to the Hartford Courant.

Sean Smith, Lieberman's campaign manager, dismissed Lamont as a "one issue" candidate who is "very much over the top with his rhetoric."

Putting that rhetoric aside, Lamont faces a very difficult task if he hopes to make a serious run at Lieberman. The first hurdle will be to ensure himself a place on the Aug. 8 primary ballot. Lamont can accomplish that in one of two ways: He can either win support from at least 15 percent of the delegates in attendance at the May 20 nominating convention, or he can petition his way on the ballot by collecting signatures from two percent of registered Democrats in the state.

If -- as expected -- Lamont wins a place on the primary ballot, it remains to be seen whether he can win Connecticut Democrats away from Lieberman, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2000.

One factor in Lamont's favor is that Connecticut holds a closed primary, meaning only registered Democrats are allowed to vote. There is a clearly a certain segment of Democratic base voters who are unhappy with Lieberman's position on the war. A February Quinnipiac University poll showed Lieberman with higher approval numbers among Republicans than Democrats.

Even so, that same poll showed Lieberman trouncing Lamont 68 percent to 13 percent in a Democratic primary match-up. And 61 percent of Democrats said Lieberman deserves to be reelected, compared with 30 percent who said he did not.

Lieberman also begins the primary race with a massive cash advantage over Lamont. Lieberman ended 2005 with $4.1 million in the bank; Lamont has yet to file a financial report with the Federal Election Commission. Lamont, who does have considerable wealth, can give up to $514,000 from his own pocket before triggering the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment" under campaign finance rules. If Lamont breaks that threshold, Lieberman donors would be allowed to triple their maximum contributions.

Lamont's candidacy has drawn considerable positive attention from the so-called "netroots" -- a loosely affiliated group of progressive blogs that helped raise considerable sums for Paul Hackett's 2005 special election race in Ohio's 2nd District and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez's primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar earlier this month in Texas's 28th District. Both Hackett and Rodriguez lost their races.

Does the blogosphere buzz surrounding Lamont turn into campaign cash? And, more importantly, can it help him convince primary voters to oust the long-serving Lieberman?

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 14, 2006; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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