Boosted by his victory in the hotly contested Florida primary and Rudy Giuliani's endorsement, John McCain is running solidly ahead in the Tri-State area and is likely to sweep all of the region's delegates in Tuesday's winner-take-all contests.
Now in the final run up to Super Tuesday, John McCain has reached across the aisle to secure his lead in Connecticut. The candidate campaigned in Fairfield, Connecticut Sunday, sharing the stage with Joe Lieberman, the state's Independent Democratic Senator.
Estranged from fellow Democrats ever since he lost the primary of his re-election race in August 2006, Lieberman broke with his party in December to endorse McCain. He has criss-crossed the early states throughout January, helping the Republican among moderates and independents. Last week, Lieberman was appointed co-chair of McCain's Connecticut campaign, along with Rep. Chris Shays, a perennial target for House Democrats.
In his very public support of McCain, Lieberman seemed unconcerned with his standing back home. Lieberman might already have burned his last bridges with Connecticut Democrats, among whom he is already unpopular. According to CNN's exit polls from the general election of the 2006 Senate contest, Lieberman, running as an independent, only got 33 percent of the Democratic vote versus 65 percent for Ned Lamont who had defeated him in the August primary.
On the other hand, exit polls showed that Lieberman crushed his opponents among Connecticut Republicans, 70 percent of whom supported him versus only 21 percent for the official Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman also carried the independent vote with 54 percent.
These numbers have made McCain's camp confident that the support of a former Democratic vice-presidential nominee will not alienate Republican voters.
Tuesday's Republican contest in Connecticut is a closed primary. That means that only registered Republicans - the group that gave Lieberman his margin of victory in November 2006 - can participate in the election come February 5th and that the candidate has nothing to lose from the animosity Lieberman inspires among the state's Democrats.
The Romney campaign is hoping that McCain's association with Lieberman hurts him among the Republican base and demonstrates that the Arizona Senator sits outside of the conservative mainstream. Commenting on Lieberman's role on the campaign trail, Romney staffer Craig Stevens launched into a list of McCain's offenses to conservative orthodoxy, tying them to the Connecticut Senator. "Sen. McCain voted against the President's tax cuts twice, wrote the amnesty bill, and the McCain-Lieberman bill would add as much as 50 cents in taxes to every gallon of gas and additional costs to heating oil," he said.
Chris Healy, the Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, acknowledged how difficult it is to predict Lieberman's impact on the state's primary. "Certainly Senator Lieberman got Republican votes but what impact it might have I am not sure," he said.
Polls suggest that there is little standing in McCain's way in Connecticut's GOP primary. But the dynamics of the 2012 Senate race could prove more intriguing to watch. Switching to the present tense, Healy added, "Lieberman obviously gets some Republican votes." Just as he did in 2006, Lieberman has irremediably tied his re-election prospects to his standing among the state's GOP.