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David Sirota Headshot

For Dems, Lamont Helps, and Lieberman Becomes a Clear & Present Danger

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For months, Washington pundits, operatives and lobbyists have been issuing apocalyptic prophecies claiming that if Ned Lamont won the Connecticut Democratic primary, the Democratic Party will be severely weakened. But in very specific ways, it is clear this morning that the exact opposite is happening: that Lamont's win has strengthened the Democratic Party, and Joe Lieberman's selfish decision to ignore the democratic primary process and run as a candidate of one will weaken the Democratic Party. Here's what I mean.

Lamont's win will strengthen Democratic unity: In 2002, Republicans ran Rep. Pat Toomey against Sen. Arlen Specter. Though Toomey lost, GOP strategists knew the race was no waste - it reinforced to other GOP officeholders that if they veer from the conservative line, they could face a primary challenge. That has helped the GOP build and maintain unity, and that's the very same thing that will happen now that Lamont has won the Connecticut primary. As Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) admitted, Democrats everywhere now have a very clear example of how  aiding and abetting the right-wing agenda of George W. Bush could land them with a challenge from their own voters at home. Lamont's victory means that there will be more Democratic unity on the critical economic and foreign policy votes in which so many Democratic lawmakers previously peeled off (the energy bill, free trade deals, Iraq, the bankruptcy bill, estate tax, etc.), supported the GOP and undermined the Democratic Party's effort to have a real message.

Lamont's win fuels the anti-incumbent narrative heading into the 2006 elections: The Washington Post this week released a poll showing that anti-incumbent feeling among voters is at a historic high - a terrific situation for Democrats in advance of the 2006 elections. Lamont's victory adds to that storyline, as his campaign was ultimately a story of anti-incumbency, especially since it played off of a Lieberman candidacy that the Hartford Courant showed was openly bought-and-paid for by Washington lobbyists. This is clearly why Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman is giving a speech today to attack Lamont. Mehlman will claim that Lamont's Iraq position, means Democrats are "weak on terror" - even though polls show Lamont represents the position of the vast majority of Americans, and polls show Democrats now have an advantage over Republicans on fighting terrorism. What Mehlman is really doing is trying to distract attention from the powerful message of Lamont's victory: namely, that there is a seething, widespread public anger at incumbents in Washington.

Lieberman's new rhetoric (which is the same as his old rhetoric that drew him a primary challenge in the first place) will be used as the GOP's weapon: On ABC's Good Morning America today, Lieberman justified his abandonment of the Democratic Pary by claiming "the Democratic Party has taken -- has been taken over by people who are not from the mainstream of America." He recited this RNC talking point, even though polls have consistently shown that Lieberman is far outside of the mainstream on core issues like Iraq, Social Security, health care and trade. In fact, that's exactly why he lost. But now, Lieberman is going to be running around repeating this line from now until election day - and people like Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and every GOP candidate in America is going to be calling Lieberman a "good Democrat" who is supposedly proving their attack points on actual Democrats.

Lieberman's move will draw huge resources away from Democratic efforts to win Congress: With grassroots organizations like Moveon.org, Democracy for America and progressive donors strongly committed to Lamont's candidacy, Lieberman's move will draw away critical resources from battleground states/districts that Democrats need to win Congress in 2006. Put another way, Lieberman's move - because it jeopardizes Democrats hold on the seat - will have a severe impact on diverting scarce resources for a Democratic victory in 2006. Perhaps this is what Lieberman, who has made his name embracing George W. Bush, really wants. After all, another GOP win of Congress will help further the Bush agenda that Lieberman has been so happy with. But it could damage Democrats' ability to win Congress - which is exactly why Lieberman's move is making Republican donors so happy.

These are the reasons why Democratic officeholders have to stop tip-toeing around the Lieberman issue, and stop trying to soft-touch Lieberman because "he's such a nice guy and we've been cocktail party friends with him for so many years." It is the reason that DLCers and former Lieberman friends like Sens. Evan Bayh (D) and Hillary Clinton have quickly embraced Lamont. Because they - and hopefully all of their colleagues - are realizing that Lieberman now represents a very clear and present danger not just to the progressive policy agenda, but to both the short-term and long-term electoral goals of the Democratic Party.