Ned Lamont is returning to the campaign trail to help defeat Republican senators some say are blocking efforts to change the direction of the war in Iraq. In this effort, Lamont is joining his old friend from last year's campaign against Joe Lieberman; Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Kerry was one of an elite group of national Democrats who broke with Lieberman after Lamont won the 2006 Democratic primary. Now Lamont is said to be returning the favor, as Kerry seeks a place as a partisan leader in Democratic congressional politics.
This new venture offers an opportunity to look back at the party reaction to Lamont's campaign and ask; What were they thinking? And why would the party ever look to Kerry, and others like him, for political leadership?
When the Lamont campaign began, it was treated by the news media as a side show with little chance of success. As the year went on, it became apparent Lamont had a real chance of winning the primary by appealing to the anti-war base in the Connecticut Democratic Party. But euphoria over the potential victory got in the way of rational analysis and Democrats ended up turning a sure win into defeat.
It should have been obvious that Lieberman would not give up the fight if he lost the primary. It should have also been obvious that if he ran as an independent –which he did – the anti-Lieberman vote would split, fail to crack 50 percent and he would be re-elected. Lamont never had a chance to win the general election.
Dumber still was the decision by national Democrats like Chris Dodd and John Kerry to cast loyalty to Lieberman aside to back Lamont. The move was supposed to be a show of party unity, but the practical effect was the creation of Super Senator Lieberman.
Beholden to no political party and harboring a lingering resentment against fellow Democrats who deserted him, Lieberman is arguably the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. He is the potential swing vote on all controversial issues, including the war.
His colleagues are trying to make it up to him, even as he scolds the Senate Minority Leader for being too partisan and dominates any debate he chooses with his free pass onto the op-ed pages of every major paper in the country. Over the years, he has mastered the use of the news media. Today his platform is bigger than ever and he is not afraid to use it.
From start to finish, betting against Lieberman was bad politics. And the ramifications are not yet fully known.
Half a year later, support for the war is at a low point. Once again, Democrats must decide whether to toss Lieberman over the side, as he weakens their ability to pressure President Bush to adopt their policies. With the benefit of hindsight, it must be very difficult for even the most partisan Democrat to bet against Lieberman again.
Prior to last year's primary challenge, Lieberman was destined to quietly finish out his tenure in the Senate on the list of former presidential also-rans. Nearly dead politically speaking, his career has now been resurrected. He may find himself courted as a potential running mate on an independent presidential ticket in 2008, or as a cabinet member in the next administration – whether it be lead by a Democrat or Republican.
In 2006, it is clear Democrats did not think this one through. It would be interesting to know, at what point during the campaign did a few of them turn to each other and ask; Why are we doing this again?
Dean Pagani is a former gubernatorial advisor. He is V.P. of Public Affairs for Cashman and Katz Integrated Communications in Glastonbury.