Joe Lieberman is the de facto Republican candidate in the CT Senate race. That much is clear. What's less obvious (especially to the pundits), is that he's become a member of that party's hard-right Dick Cheney wing, and that he's now fighting an ugly Rovian campaign on its behalf.
Those facts, if properly explained, are the key to a Lamont victory in November. Awareness of Lieberman's extremism should dry up the support he holds among Democrats who still think he's a "moderate" - but only if other Democrats get the message out to them.
I tuned into a few minutes of "Left, Right, and Center" today, and heard the moderator ask Arianna a question whose premise was: "How does Ned Lamont win the Republican votes he'll need to win the election?" Arianna's response was to cite this piece by Bob Geiger, which lists those Democratic Senators unwilling to publicly support their own party's nominee.
Arianna's answer, and Bob's piece, are excellent. But the question missed the point entirely. Lamont doesn't need to win Republican votes. He needs to win all the Democratic votes, and to mobilize the Democratic base. If he does that in Democratic-leaning Connecticut, while persuading a few moderates, he'll win.
The problem of those wayward Senators and their endorsements will take care of itself, if Democrats communicate the true nature of Lieberman and his campaign.
I have some sympathy for these straying Senators. They face two problems. First, many of them live in swing states or Red states, where it's critical to their political health that they appear both moderate and non-partisan.
Second, they've done the math: they realize that, under certain scenarios, the presence of Lieberman as a voting Democrat might be their only chance to retake the Senate. (That's why I compared him to Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction, " in asking whether Lieberman's campaign has been a Rove operation all along.)
So what's the answer? Let's take the "Lieberman as swing vote" scenario first, since it's so much easier to bat down. The fact is, it ain't gonna happen. Here's why: This scenario means, by definition, that Lieberman's choice of party affiliation determines Senate control.
In such a high-stakes bidding war between Democrats and Republicans, the GOP - which controls the Executive and might well still control the House - would have much, much more to offer Lieberman. They will also have been instrumental in securing his victory. Democrats, give up. You don't have a chance.
There's another reason why Dems lose in this scenario, and it's the key to how they should conduct their campaign: Lieberman is now far closer to the Republican right on key issues, and is more 'extreme' than the moderates in either party. There's no doubt: Joe will dance with the ones that brought him. He likes their tune better, especially on the big issues.
(His waffling on Social Security shows that he'll change positions when it's expedient, too, so don't expect much "bipartisanship" from your new Republican. He'll need to thank his benefactors.)
And guess what? If Lieberman wins and his pals make him Defense Secretary (or give him another plum assignment), his replacement will be named by Connecticut's Governor ... a Republican.
With the National Republican Senatorial Committee's all-but-endorsement of his campaign, it's now pretty much official that he's conducting a GOP "proxy war" in Connecticut. The message needs to be: Joe Lieberman - along with his allies Dick Cheney and Karl Rove - is no "moderate." He's well to the right of Republican moderates, much less those other Democrats in the "Gang of 14."
If Lieberman's more conservative than these Republican Senators, how can he be described as a "moderate Democrat" by any but the totally clueless?
Here's how Democrats can educate the voters on Lieberman's hard-right GOP stance in four simple sentences:
1. He supported the religious extremists when they tried to intervene in the Schiavo case - an action opposed by 70% of all Americans.
2. He wants more troops in Iraq, while 60-70% of Americans want an end to the war.
3. He doesn't support the Fourth Amendment. Period.
4. He's running a gutter campaign using sleazy tactics(1), with the active participation of the Rove/Cheney dirty-tricks gang.
That's the argument Lamont's supporters need to make. While Ned shares his positive vision with the voters, other Democrats need to hammer this message over and over again. Lamont doesn't need to win Republican votes. He needs to starve Lieberman of Democratic votes. Tepid endorsements from fellow Dems won't do: he needs fighters.
Removing the illusion that Joe is in any way "moderate" or "bipartisan" will also give these wavering Democratic Senators the cover they need to endorse the real Democrat in the race.
Dems could do other things to win the Connecticut race, too. They could take a cue from Republicans who flood Green candidates with money. Once Democratic donors have reached their limit with Ned, they should dig deep in their pockets and show some cash love to the "official" Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger. Even though the national GOP isn't supporting him, we can assume that every vote for Schlesinger is one less vote for Joe.
They could also make cheap, potentially unlawful, and entirely baseless allegations ... but, no. Leave that to Lieberman. The high road is the one that leads to victory in November.
(1) Here's a partial list of Lieberman's gutter tactics (so far - it's early in the campaign):
1. Accusing the Lamont campaign of hacking his website without proof.
2. The absurd "bear cub" ad, which made the false accusation that Lowell Weicker intitiated the Lamont campaign.
3. Statements from his Republican friends, including Cheney, that Lamont's victory pleased Al Qaeda. (note: Lieberman did not repudiate these statements.)
4. Accusations from his supporters that Jewish voters were disloyal Jews if they didn't vote for him. (Again, these are statements he didn't repudiate.)
5. Describing his opponents' supporters as "haters," "fascists," "Stalinists," etc.
Feel free to add your own.
UPDATE: A commenter mentioned Lieberman's alleged "90% record of voting Democratic." Let's address that one, too: it's Lieberman's statistic. I've asked for independent verification of it and received none.
What would it even mean? Voting with ALL Democrats 90% of the time? Voting with MOST Democrats 90% of the time? Voting with AT LEAST ONE Democrat 90% of the time? (Zell Miller, maybe?) It's a phony, meaningless number -an empty right wing talking point. It was probably written by Rove.
Wingers sure love to quote it, though, to show how "intolerant" Democrats are.