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Posted at 2:57 PM ET, 01/18/2011

What will Joe Lieberman do?

By Chris Cillizza

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman will make an announcement about his plans for 2012 tomorrow.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) will announce tomorrow whether he plans to retire or run for a fifth term in office in 2012, a long-awaited decision for the man who has become a liberal lightning rod in recent years.

Lieberman is scheduled to make his decision tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Stamford, Connecticut, an announcement that even the closest of Nutmeg State observers acknowledge remains very much a mystery.

"Half of us believe he is running, half believe he's not," said one veteran Connecticut Democratic observer. "This is a guy who always zigs when people expect him to zag."

The fact that Lieberman is making the announcement in Connecticut is being taken as a sign by some that he plans to run again since he could easily issue a statement announcing his retirement while sitting in his office in Washington.

On the other hand, Lieberman has moved his decision timeline up significantly, a development that others believe is an indication that he is getting out of the race and clearing the way for a fair fight between the two parties.

Simply put: No one knows what Lieberman is planning -- and he likes it that way.

Further complicating things is that unlike most incumbents who have two options when it comes to their political future -- run or retire -- Lieberman has four choices: retire, run as a Democrat, run as an Independent or run as a Republican.

Let's examine each possibility -- and rate the chances Lieberman takes that path when he makes the decision on his future official tomorrow.

In order of likelihood:

*Retire: Lieberman has been in the Senate since 1988 and would be 70 years old on election day 2012. And, there's little question that this race will be the toughest in a career dotted with difficult contests. Given the no-go announcements by other long-serving Democratic Senators in recent years -- Byron Dorgan (N.D), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) etc. -- Lieberman would be in good company if he decided that discretion is the better part of political valor. That said, Lieberman is notoriously feisty as a politician and likely doesn't want the "backed down from a fight" storyline to take hold as the final chapter of his political career. (One Connecticut-based blog is reporting Lieberman will retire tomorrow but the Fix has not been able to independently confirm that report. A Lieberman spokeswoman told the Fix that "the Senator's remarks tomorrow will stand on their own.")

* Run as an Independent: There are hurdles to running as an independent -- most notably that Lieberman couldn't run under the banner of the party he created in 2006. But, that seems more of a technicality than a major roadblock if Lieberman wanted to run as an independent in 2012. He has made clear in past interviews that the independent path was most likely, telling NBC's Andrea Mitchell that "right now if I run again, it's more likely I'll run as an Independent." An independent bid would allow Lieberman to conserve cash and spend the next six months casting himself as the sort of centrist the state and the Senate need. Of course, Lieberman won as an independent in 2006 because Republicans -- including the Bush White House -- tacitly stepped away from their nominee, allowing Lieberman to harvest scads of GOP votes. It's hard to imagine national Republicans going down that road again.

* Run as a Democrat: As we have written before, it's very difficult to see how Lieberman can win a Democratic primary. First of all, he lost one already in 2006 to cable television executive Ned Lamont. Second, things have gotten worse not better in terms of Lieberman's relationship with the Democratic base since that race. Remember that Lieberman not only endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 but also spoke at the Republican National Convention. (Yes, that really happened.) Lieberman's numbers are dismal among Democrats and he would face both Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Rep. Chris Murphy -- and perhaps others -- if he sought the Democratic nomination.

* Run as a Republican: Despite his repeated apostasy against the Democratic base, Lieberman has never left the party. (While he was elected as an independent, he caucuses with Democrats in the Senate.) Given that, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he takes the leap into the GOP. The only way we can imagine it is if Republicans -- for some reason -- promised to clear the GOP primary field for Lieberman. The party would have little reason to drive 2010 nominee Linda McMahon or former Rep. Rob Simmons from the race, however, since in so doing they would almost certainly nullify their chances of winning. A three-way race with Lieberman is potentially winnable for Republicans; a two way contest far less so because of Connecticut's Democratic tilt.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 18, 2011; 2:57 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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