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The Fix Talks Back: Bellwether Project, Lieberman and More

To kick off the joint Washington Post/washingtonpost.com Bellwether Project, politics editor John F. Harris and I hosted a live online chat yesterday to field readers' questions. We weren't able to get to all of the questions, so I plucked a few of the best of the rest to answer here.

Steamboat Springs, Colo.: Do you see the Lieberman primary challenge as a bellwether, or is it peculiar to very blue Connecticut?

The Fix: No race in the country is drawing as much national attention as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's challenge from wealthy businessman Ned Lamont in the state's Aug. 8 Democratic primary. While we tended to limit our bellwether picks to general-election races rather than primaries, the Connecticut contest is certainly a bellwether of sorts -- it shows the depth of dissatisfaction within the Democratic base toward the war in Iraq.

The Quinnipiac poll released recently showed Lieberman down by four points among those most likely to vote in the Democratic primary -- an extremely troubling sign for the incumbent. Some in the Democratic consulting world are predicting a double-digit loss for Lieberman in the primary, arguing that Democrats -- for whatever reason -- have decided they want him gone.

As I've said before, I think it is not just the fact that Lieberman has supported the war but how he has expressed that support that has gotten him into this bind. Many liberal Democrats view Lieberman as sanctimonious and scolding when it comes to Iraq, and I think it is his tone (more than his stance) that has provoked the outpouring of vitriol toward him on the liberal left.

Should Lieberman go down in the primary, expect other Democrats -- especially those thinking about running for president in 2008 -- to become more tepid in their support -- or more vocal in their criticism of -- the Iraq conflict.

Glenside, Pa.: Will the Bellwethers try to identify key voting blocs such as "soccer moms," "security moms," "office park dads." The demographic du jours discussed include Starbucks Republicans.

The Fix: While microtargeting is all the rage in campaign politics, the Bellwether Project is not an attempt to slice and dice the electorate in that way. Rather, its goal is to present a blueprint for readers to guide them for the final 100 days or so before the midterm elections. It's a guide to the issues, demographic trends and races that will likely determine which party controls the House and Senate next year.

We'll leave the voting patterns of married women who live within a 30-minute drive of a city of 100,000 people or more and spend $25 or more a week at Starbucks and $50 or more a week at Barnes & Noble to the political targeting experts.

Herndon, Va.: Regarding the Virginia U.S. Senate race: At this time it appears to me that Mr. Webb is the right candidate for the wrong race. Unless Allen stumbles, or Webb can raise umpteen million $, does this look to you like a race with a lot of publicity, but an easy win for Allen?

The Fix: When Jim Webb, a former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, won the June Democratic primary it seemed like Sen. George Allen (R) was in for a very tough race. That may still be the case, but Webb's continued poor fundraising may mean that we never see a fair fight between the two candidates.

Allen ended June with $6.6 million in the bank compared with $424,000 for Webb. In the early going of the general election, it appears that Webb learned the wrong lessons from his primary race against former technology lobbyist Harris Miller, in which he was outspent but managed to win. That is a rarity in modern politics. With a politician as savvy as Allen, if Webb can't slim the current financial margin significantly he will have a very hard time staying competitive.

For those Fix readers who say I concentrate too much on how much money candidates have, remember that without money to fund a grassroots organization and run a media campaign, most voters will never hear the candidate's message -- no matter how compelling it is.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 25, 2006; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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Next: Parsing the Polls on Bill and Hillary Clinton

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