Connecticut Democrats will go to the polls on Tuesday and the choice
will be a defining moment for both the Democratic Party and the nation.
While I will stop short of a precise prediction, let me suggest that
polling evidence shows that Senator Joseph Lieberman will lose the
Senate primary to businessman Ned Lamont by a substantial margin. Enough
of a margin, in fact, to convince his Senate colleagues and friends that
he should forego a promised independent run and bow out gracefully. We
already see good friends like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg suggesting
that Lieberman will have to drop out and the pressure will build.
At the same time, we have seen Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton begin the
process of pulling away from her aggressive pro-war stance in last week's
compelling confrontation with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Referring to the Bush administration's policy in Iraq as a "failure" was
a big change for Hillary who has been booed in recent months by fellow
Democrats for her support for the President.
I have stated on The Huffington Post several times that the Democrats
will have a tough time convincing that they are ready to take back
control of Congress without offering any clarity on the Iraq War.
Lieberman has been patently clear on Iraq but way out of the mainstream
of his party's own voters. Clinton as well runs the risk of having her
landslide victory in New York tainted by a below-expectations showing
because New York liberal Democrats want her to be against the war.
Let's just look at the numbers from my most recent national poll (July
21). Overall, only 36% of likely voters told us that they agree that the
war in Iraq has been "worth the loss of American lives", while 57%
disagree. But the partisan splits are more revealing: only 16% of the
Democrats polled said the war has been worth while 82% disagree and only
26% of Independents agree the war has been worth it while 72% disagree.
On the Republican side, 64% said the war has been worth it, while 23%
disagree. The war has been the principal cause of the nation's
polarization in the past three years. The polling evidence shows the
degree to which Iraq has become a Republican war. And these latest
numbers are also noteworthy in that they show that about one in four
Republicans have now pretty much given up on the war.
All of which is to suggest that Democratic candidates will now probably
be emboldened to take a stronger stance against the war. If principle
doesn't win the day, at least the polling numbers are pretty clear what
their base wants. Indeed, the polling numbers were pretty clear what
Democrats and Independents wanted in 2004 - and the fact that they didn't
receive the opposition to the war they were looking for from their
standard-bearers is the main reason that they lost both the Presidency
and did not pick up seats in either house of Congress.
Meanwhile, look for Ned Lamont, who is running a strong antiwar campaign,
to be the new face of the Democrats in 2006 and perhaps beyond. And look
for Democratic voters to push harder for even more clarity on where
Democrats stand. Lieberman will be gone and Clinton will be distancing
herself from her previous stand. But calling an obvious failure a failure
will not be enough. The next step in offering voters some clarity on Iraq
will be to develop an exit strategy.
That is what leadership is all about and Democrats, fresh from sending
the pro-war Lieberman a clear message, will be looking very closely.